The role of the UN in crafting an international response to climate change hangs in the balance, as negotiations commence in Cancún amid low expectations for progress.
Invoking the Mayan goddess of the moon Ixchel, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), called for a “balanced outcome” from Cancún, but few observers are expecting more than limited progress to ensure that negotiations move forward.
According to the president of the Conference of the Parties, Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa, governments meeting in Mexico this week and next can reach a deal on action to help developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change, low-carbon technology transfer, financing for protecting forests, and the creation of a new fund for long-term climate finance.
However, while some governments – and the UN – are pressing for agreements on elements of the climate change framework, there is a high risk that others will insist upon the UN’s consensus model of agreement, where “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Negotiators fear progress could be scuppered by: disputes around the industrialised world agreeing to binding emission reduction targets; the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol; and the monitoring, reporting and verification of developing country mitigation efforts.
On continuing the Kyoto Protocol – a touchstone for many developing countries – Japan has declared itself fundamentally opposed. Kuni Shimada, special adviser to Japanese Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto, yesterday told Bloomberg News that the protocol was “outdated”, and said that Japan will not help extend its target period.
Speaking at the opening plenary, Figueres stressed that “the need to avoid a gap after the first commitment period and the importance of having clarity on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol” were key issues for resolution in Cancún.
A blog posting yesterday by lawyers at Norton Rose attending the talks stated that: “Ominously, in the corridors, a key question was whether or not the Cancún outcome would be sufficient to secure the future of the UN negotiations as a viable way forward.”
Speaking to reporters, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that: "Cancún can nevertheless take the world a significant step forward by agreeing on a balanced set of decisions covering many key issues ... It is crucial that Cancún delivers this progress, otherwise the UN climate change process risks losing momentum and relevance.”
Any move away from a UN process is staunchly opposed by many environmental groups: “Only an equitable, comprehensive and legally binding agreement will bring the much needed international commitment to manage the climate crisis,” said Stewart Maginnis, director of environment and development at conservation group IUCN. “What governments should focus on in Cancún is ensuring that confidence in the UNFCCC process is rebuilt, which will bring us a step closer to that final deal.”
“There is also a strong school of thought that extra-UN activity does require at least some common sense of purpose and a general direction at a UN level,” the Norton Rose blog continued.
Around 15,000 participants, including delegates from 194 governments, representatives from business and industry, environmental organisations and research institutions, are attending the two-week negotiations.
By Carbon Finance