Environment

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.

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 throughback 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.

Cancún Agreement -- Mitigation and Emissions Reductions

What does the Cancún Agreement achieve? First, it's important to know that it is not a legally binding international agreement. It does, however, pave the way for a global treaty to be agreed upon and implemented. This work will undoubtedly form the centerpiece of next year's summit.

In terms of mitigations or action needed to avert climate change, the Cancún agreement explicitly states that emissions should not allow temperature increases to rise above 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that is commonly agreed by the worldwide scientific community as the threshold above which the consequences of climate become irreversible.

Hedegaard touted the inscription of the 2.0 maximum in the agreement, stating "for the first time, the pledges 2.0 is acknowledged in a UN document and the pledges are documented; and we acknowledge that we are not there yet." 

The door has been left open for a review to bring the limit down to 1.5 degrees. Many African nations have called for a 1.5 degree limit, since temperature disproportionately affects the region: a 2.0 degree temperature increase elsewhere equals a 3.0 temperature increase in Africa.

Additionally, the Cancún agreement seeks emissions reductions of 25-40 percent from 1990, which is in agreement with what the worldwide scientific community has called for. The agreement seeks commitments from all nations, that is, from both developed and developing nations.

In this way, it brings together the Kyoto Protocol, which sought commitments from developed nations and was signed onto by 37 nations, and the Copenhagen Accord, which sought commitments from developing nations and had 55 signatories.

Since the Copenhagen Accord commitments were entirely voluntary and neither the Copenhagen Accord nor the Cancún Agreement is legally binding, these pledges at present cannot be enforced. This remains to be worked out.

Earlier this year, countries were asked to submit commitments for the Copenhagen Accord by January 31, 2010 and appear as the Accord's Appendix I. A list of countries and their commitments can be found here.

The reduction commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord are thus now anchored in the COP framework and part of the UNFCCC process. Their inclusion was of keen interest to the United States, which has been working tirelessly over the last year for their recognition and implementation.

Stern acknowledged that there were "quite different views with respect to the anchoring of pledges of the Copenhagen Accord." Many nations opposed their inclusion, since the Copenhagen Accord was a backroom deal that did not emerge from the working groups.

Countries are to develop low carbon development plans and strategies and decide how best to implement them. For developed nations, the options can include market mechanisms. For developing nations, mitigation will be matched by funding and technology.

Funding

The negotiations also sought to secure funding, in order to help developing nations adapt to the consequences of climate change, which disproportionately hit them harder. The commitments from Copenhagen were repeated: $30 billion dollars in fast track funding for three years, 2010-2012; and $100 billion in long-term funding to be raised by 2020.

The Cancún Agreement establishes a Green Climate Fund under the Conference of the Parties, which will be run by a board consisting of equal representation from developed and developing countries. It will not be run by the World Bank, which was of concern particularly to developing nations, who have often had negative experiences with the World Bank.

Mark Stevenson of the AP challenged U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern in a press conference to explain how the agreement was a success in terms of funding: "You have started a Green Fund with no funding ... How can you call this a success? Could give us a small resume of what additional funding the United States pledged here in Cancún?"

Stern responded that "we do have new funding. We are part of the fast start pledge from last year, which carries for three years. The first year was 2010, then there's 2011 and 2012." Yet his answer belies the problem: funding from last year is not quite new funding.

A Technology Executive Committee and a Climate Technology Center and Network were also set up. They are intended to help transfer technology from developed nations to developing nations, in order to help the latter address and adapt to climate change. Discussions were stuck on questions of patents involved in international technology transfers.

Enforcing Pledges

Lastly, the Cancún Agreement negotiated a way to monitor, report and verify (MRV) pledges made. Having transparency in this area was particularly important to the United States. Developed nations are to report their emissions inventories annually and developing nations are to report their inventories every two years.

REDD

Additionally, the UN program to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation was going to go ahead. The controversial program ostensibly seeks to curb emissions from deforestation by providing developing nations with financial aid, if they do not chop down their forest. Trees soak up C02 emissions when standing, but inversely when chopped down release them into the air.

Opponents argue that rampant abuses exist, since the program does not provide enough oversight. A key tenet of the agreement coming out of the World People's Conference on Climate Change, convened by President Evo Morales in Bolivia in April, opposed REDD. Numerous NGOs participating in this year's COP 16 took a stance against REDD through actions and panels. Forested areas are mostly inhabited by indigenous peoples, who are therefore impacted intensely.

Bolivia

Bolivian lead climate negotiator Pablo Solón refused to sign on to the agreement, saying it condemns humankind to 4.0 temperature increases and would doom millions living in the most impoverished and vulnerable nations. COP 16 President Espinosa overrode his protests, stating that she would note his concerns but that the consensus process did not allow one person to hold up the support of the other countries.

Response from NGOS

Friends of the Earth International called the agreement a slap in the face, and warned that it could still lead to a temperature rise of 5C. "In the end, all of us will be affected by the lack of ambition and political will of a small group of countries. The US, with Russia and Japan, are to blame for the lack of desperately needed greater ambition," said Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth's international director.

Rose Braz, from Center for Biological Diverstiy, said: "While the Cancun agreement moves the process forward, it doesn't move the process forward boldly or quickly enough. In Cancun, led by the U.S., countries refused to even acknowledge the gap between the cuts pledged in Copenhagen and the cuts to global warming pollution science requires, let alone establish a concrete process to close that huge gap. Today, the planet remains on a course for warming of over 3.5º C (6.3º F) -- a truly horrifying prospect."

On Friday, NASA announced that 2010 is set to be the warmest year on record. The next Conference of the Parties is scheduled to take place in Durban, South Africa, from 28 November to 9 December 2011.

 

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic, who has covered international climate change negotiations, most recently in Copenhagen and Bonn. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, In These Times and The Nation.