The Climate in Cancun

by Dan Bodansky

Needless to say, there’s a much warmer atmosphere at this year’s climate conference in Cancun than last year’s conference in Copenhagen.  By all accounts, the Mexicans have done a great job both in preparing the diplomatic groundwork for this year’s meeting and in running the conference during its first week.  They certainly have learned the lessons of the last war.  In Copenhagen, the Danes  tried to bypass the formal negotiating process – which has been stalled for years – by developing a political agreement in smaller meetings among the key players.  Their approach was widely criticized as undemocratic and illegitimate – a charge that was, in  my view, largely unfounded, but which was pushed particularly strongly by a group of obstructionist countries that have decided to use the climate negotiations as a forum for settling other political scores.  (See my post last year from Copenhagen on the “illegitimacy of legitimacy.”)

This year, the Mexicans have bent over backwards to create an open process, assiduously consulting countries in order to create an atmosphere in which everyone would feel included.  At a “stocktaking” meeting on Saturday, the Mexican foreign minister, who is presiding over the conference, repeatedly emphasized that there is no “secret text” and that at the ministerial dinner she would be hosting that night, there would be “no negotiations.”

Of course, that leaves the question, if an outcome won’t be negotiated by a smaller group of ministers, how will it be negotiated?  The Mexican’s approach is to do so through “consultations,” leading to an informal text that is the subject of further consultation, leading to a further iteration of the text, and so forth, until a text acceptable to all parties is reached.  Whether this “negotiating” style will prove successful remains to be seen.  At Saturday’s stock-taking, some of the familiar suspects that helped to derail Copenhagen were already beginning to voice criticisms, saying that the text should be negotiated by states rather than produced by facilitators.  Of course, that is a prescription for failure, unless the negotiations among states can be held among a smaller group, which has already been ruled out as undemocratic.  But failure may be exactly what the critics want.

A key question at the Cancun conference is how much the outcome here will reflect the Copenhagen Accord, which was agreed only a year ago by the leaders of all of the world’s major economies.  From my admittedly US-centric perspective, it appears that at least some developing countries are attempting to view what they got out of the Copenhagen Accord ($30 billion in fast start financing and $100 billion per year by 2020) as the point of departure for more demanding proposals on finance, while walking back from what agreed to in Copenhagen (agreement to implement the national actions they list internationally and a process of international consultation and analysis).  To the extent this is true, the developed country concessions in Copenhagen have become, in effect, the floor – and the developing country concessions the ceiling – of a Cancun outcome.

The Cancun negotiations are continuing in two tracks, one to develop an “agreed outcome” under the Framework Convention and the other to develop a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.    In the Convention track, the negotiating text contains the usual platitudes on adaptation and technology transfer.  (These are of course hugely important issues, but it is difficult to see how they depend on the verbiage under negotiation here.)   The three biggest issues are:

(1)     How the national actions that have been pledged under the Copenhagen Accord will be reflected  or “anchored” under the Convention?  For example, will they be listed in an appendix to a conference decision, or simply listed in an “inf” (information) document?

(2)    What procedure will be established for “international consultation and analysis” (ICA) on national actions and commitments?

(3)    What financial architecture will be established for delivery of the $30 billion fast start financing and the roughly $100 billion longer-term financing.  (This is a potentially huge issue, since the new Green Climate Fund could dwarf the World Bank in scale, but only if a sound structure is adopted that makes donor countries sufficiently confident that their money will be well spent to lead them to contribute.)

Even if these issues could be resolved, the question about what to do with the Kyoto Protocol could still be a deal-killer.  Developing countries have said they are unwilling to accept anything in Cancun under the Framework Convention track unless developed countries accept a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.   The Kyoto Protocol’s structure is a bonanza for developing countries, since it exempts them from any emission reduction commitments.  So, not surprisingly, they are adamant that it must be preserved.  For the same reasons, some developed countries – most notably, Japan – are equally adamant that the Kyoto Protocol approach should be scrapped and replaced by a single agreement that encompasses both developed and developing country mitigation actions.  The Copenhagen Accord sidestepped the issue of what to do with Kyoto, but it has now reemerged in full force.  Japan made an unusually strong statement the opening day of the conference that it would not accept a second commitment period of the KP, and developing countries have responded equally forcefully.  Whether the skills of the Mexican facilitators can overcome this deadlock remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the overcast skies earlier this week have given way to glorious sunshine — hopefully a positive omen for the second week of negotiations.

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/12/05/the-climate-in-cancun/

One Response

  1. I can’t say I share Dan’s optimism, I think we’re looking at a divide that not even the most skilled facilitator can bridge.  Maybe some fig leaf will be salvaged from the whole thing, but I think it’s going to make Copenhagen look positively tidy and constructive.

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