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Baby Steps Made at Climate Summit Pale in Comparison to the Change Needed

"All of us will be affected by the lack of ambition and political will of a small group of countries," concluded one NGO.
 
 
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Cancún, Mexico - As the sun rose over Cancún early Saturday morning, an agreement was reached at the COP 16. Nations lauded the work of the Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Mexican President of the COP 16, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. They received a standing ovation at the end of the plenary.

Some touted the last minute agreement, arguing that it had reignited the UNFCCC process. Others argued that while it might have saved the UNCCC process, it had not saved the climate. And yet another group pointed out the myriad ways that the new Cancún Agreement had trammeled numerous tenets of the UNFCCC, as texts emerged through back room negotiations, and were thus not inclusive and transparent. Moreover, Bolivia's refusal to sign on to the agreement were overrun, thwarting the stipulated consensus decision-making process.

So what does the new Cancún agreement contain? How does it compare with the Kyoto Protocol? With the Copenhagen Accord? And how are various nations, nation groups and NGOs responding to it?

The UNFCCC negotiations in Cancún sought to achieve three goals: 1. to establish greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions reductions commitments; 2. To secure funding and technology from developed countries for developing countries, to help them adapt to climate change; and 3. To decide on a method for monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV) the agreed upon targets. So how did nations do on these three goals?

In essence, the Cancun Agreement agreed to emissions reductions of 25 to 40 percent based on 1990 levels by 2020; it secured emissions reductions commitments from both developed and developing nations; it set up a climate fund but did not establish new funding; it worked to smooth the way for technology transfer; and it set up mechanisms to ensure transparency in reporting and monitoring.

Gordian Knot

The final days of the COP 16 were marked by a stalmate between those countries who were supportive of extending the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord. The Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012, puts the burden on developed nations, such as the U.S., to make emissions reductions. Nation groups, such as the G77, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the European Union (EU) - in other words the majority of the countries -- sought to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.

The work of the Mexican negotiating team was thus clearly to cut through what U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern referred to as the "Gordian Knot" of those who wanted to extend Kyoto and those who were keen to implement the Copenhagen Accord.

The Mexican delegates decided that the best method for making progress on the matter was to invite a handful of countries to participate in negotiations. Figueriedro of Brazil and Christopher Huhn of the United Kingdom led the negotiations and, according to Stern, "about 12 countries," which included "both major and minor countries" took part in the discussions, held during the last day of the summit and lasting about twelve hours. They were responsible for drafting the new agreement, which was then brought to the two working groups for discussion.

This meeting was not the only backroom meeting of select countries convened to address particular matters and it was these backroom deals that angered Bolivia so much because it violated the UNFCCC's guiding principles of inconclusiveness and transparency. Bolivia argued that in form, agreements put forward for discussion had to come through the UNFCCC's two working groups and not emerge through backroom discussions.

Other countries decided that making progress, any amount of progress, took precedence. They feared that not having any results emerge from this year's summit would put the entire UNFCCC process into question. And they argued it would do even less to avert climate change.

 
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