Don't Give Up On Cancun


Cancun has been transformed from a tourist destination for Americans on spring break to a city congested with queues of suited negotiators, brightly coloured activists and slightly — only slightly — more subdued NGO representatives. Mornings ritually begin with a flurry of delegates from the hotel strip crossing the massive eight lane highway to get to the bus stop in a frantic effort to catch the few free buses to the Moon Palace, about an hour away from everything else.

The Australian media’s response to COP16 has been disappointingly shallow. I’ve read about the shoddy internet connection — which is a frustrating problem but hardly news worthy — alongside weary articles about the impossibility of any sort of decisive agreement emerging this year.

COP16 is a critical set of negotiations which will allow trust and cooperation to be re-established between the 190 countries taking part. The next week and a half will determine the way in which future UN climate talks are conducted in the future and will ensure the longevity of the UNFCCC process.

The first three days of the climate talks have seen negotiators lurking in the Moon Palace corridors and working in groups at the computer banks until the wee hours of the morning. This is a good sign that both formal and informal discussions are being undertaken in good faith, with a genuine intention from most countries to reach a decision on the structural areas mentioned above within the fortnight.

One of the biggest moments so far in the climate talks has been Japan’s announcement that it will not, under any circumstances, support a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. This demonstrates a lack of leadership on Japan’s part, however it is neither surprising nor is it disastrous for the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Regardless of Japan’s involvement; Australia, the European Union and Norway have all openly asserted their intention to take on new pollution targets under the Protocol and continue with a global agreement.

It is likely there will be some discussion in the upcoming days about what form this will take, especially with the US, China and Russia most probably also rejecting the second commitment period. There is little chance however that the Kyoto Protocol will expire, it will simply proceed without Japan, the US, China and Russia who will potentially set targets and develop a system of comparison and accountability under a different framework.

Another significant issue on the table is the negotiations around the Copenhagen Accord. The infamous Copenhagen Accord was established last year in the place of a stronger proposal suggested by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and holds developed countries to the collective target of limiting emissions to a level that will result in a less than 2 degree increase in global temperatures.

At COP16 this year both elements of the Copenhagen Accord are up for reconsideration. First, the targets themselves may be re-evaluated (although it is unclear at this stage when and how this will take place) as scientific evidence indicates that global temperature increases needs to be kept below 1.5 degrees if runaway climate change is to be avoided. There was a pledge made in Copenhagen last year to review the 2 degree increase target. This is unlikely to happen in Cancun this year but the framework needed for the reassessment will hopefully be determined within the next few days.

Second, the mechanisms to establish how the targets are calculated and compared will also be clarified to ensure that the progress can be measured, regulated and verified meaningfully between all the countries. This is particularly important because of the difficult relationship shared by the US and China and China’s reluctance to be part of the group of "developed" nations who are bound to set targets. Right now, it is too early for any substantial progress to have been made in this area.

The final issue that has sprung to the forefront of COP16 is the question of financing. Who will finance what? And under what conditions? Throughout 2010, and particularly in Tianjin, the G77, African Group, AOSIS and Least Developed Countries have made substantial progress around mitigation and adaptation frameworks that could be implemented to protect and assist the most vulnerable countries. Cancun presents a forum where those gains can be built upon.

So far, the $10 billion in fast start funding for climate action promised in Copenhagen has been fulfilled, with Australia and the EU committing $600 million and $2.71 billion respectively for 2010. As well as clarification over the quantity of financial aid, COP16 also presents the opportunity for mechanisms to be developed that would facilitate the regulation and distribution of the funding. It is of critical importance that the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities be applied and that the allocation of funding for adaptation, especially in the most vulnerable countries, be made with this objective at the forefront.

The other point of contention which will undoubtedly arise early next week will be the governance of the funds — whether it is managed by the UNFCCC or an external party (such as the World Bank). It is unclear at this point which way the decision will swing, but the feeling on the ground among vulnerable countries (and certainly amongst those of us who campaign with and on their behalf) is that keeping the process within the UNFCCC is fundamental to ensure just representation, accountability and transparency.

Tomorrow young delegates from around the world will be coming together for YOUTH and FUTURE GENERATIONS DAY. Young people and NGOs play an important role on the ground at the UN climate talks — not just in their capacity as policy advisories and advocates for the under-represented; but also as story tellers and as a representation of the millions whose futures will be affected by the decisions of today.

The first few days of the conference have definitely not been the non-event that they have been painted as by the media. By contrast, they have been filled with optimism for a better process. Week two will undoubtedly hold more traffic congestion, more queues and more crowded buses. But it will also be filled with dialogues that could shape the way these vital negotiations take place in the future.

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