The Skinny on Cancun: What's Happening at the International Climate Meeting and What's at Stake?
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Cancún, Mexico -- Last week, the COP 16 got under way with a welcoming ceremony hosted by Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
This year' s climate summit -- the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC -- could not be more different from last year' s negotiations in Copenhagen. Unlike Copenhagen, with artic sub-zero temperatures suffered in few hours of scant of daylight, Cancún welcomed attendees to the summit with plentiful sunshine, clear blues skies and balmy temperatures in the 70s. Yet it's not only the weather that contrasts.
While last year attendees -- heads of state, negotiators, journalists, non-governmental organizations and activists -- arrived in droves previously never witnessed for a climate summit, with 35,000 negotiators, journalists and observers attending the conference, and up to 100,000 attending the walk or demonstration, this year, far fewer are attending the conference this year with Mexican authorities estimating up to 22,000 people.
Although that might bode well for the collective carbon footprint, it does not bode well for securing an international legally binding treaty.
Countries have gathered together to achieve agreement on three goals: 1. Establish greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions reductions for developed countries; 2. Secure funding and technology transfers from developed countries to developing countries, to help them address and adapt to climate change; and 3. Decide on a method to monitor, report and verify (MRV) the agreed upon targets of an international climate treaty.
As reported broadly, expectations for an international legally binding climate treaty coming out of Cancún this year are low. Everyone from UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon; to the UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres, to the EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard have gone on record saying that they do not expect a binding treaty to come out of the negotiations.
Yet Bolivian ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, said " The reality is that the talk of 'low expectations' is a ploy by a small group of industrialized countries to obscure their obligations to act."
While often framed as a U.S.-China standoff, at war are two main factions: those in favor of the Kyoto Protocol and those in favor of the Copenhagen Accord. These two documents could not differ more.
The UNFCCC' s two main principles are transparency and inclusiveness. The Kyoto Protocol, drawn up in 1997, entered into force into 2005. In form, it is an international legally binding agreement, negotiated and ratified by all countries, thereby reflecting the UNFCCC's guiding principles of transparency and inclusiveness.
The Copenhagen Accord, by contrast, is a backroom deal brokered between the BASIC countries -- Brazil, South Africa, India and China -- and the U.S. Thus, it flaunts the UNFCCC' s principles. And for this reason, it is not an international legally binding agreement or protocol but just an "accord" that nations merely “took note of" but did not ratify or pass.
Just last week, in an interview with the BBC, the UN Secretariat Christiana Figueres, who took over the helm from Yvo de Boer in May, reiterated the importance of adhering to the key UN principles of transparency and inclusiveness, in order to produce results at Cancún.
In content, the Kyoto Protocol put forward commitments for reducing greenhouse gas (or ghg) emissions, which is necessary to prevent temperature increases that will have irreparable consequences. It demanded that developed countries, such as the U.S. and the EU, which have historically been the biggest producers of emissions, as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, lead the way in reductions.