Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Climate Agreement in Cancun: Important Progress, but Difficult Questions Remain Unanswered

In the early hours of Saturday morning in the Mexican tropical resort of Cancun, international climate negotiators from the 193 countries and observer states came to agreement on what will now be know as the 'Cancun Agreements'.  After the very public perceived failure of the Copenhagen summit last year in Denmark, it was very important that this meeting ended successfully.  I wrote last week that "A failure to come to any agreement in Cancun would probably spell the end of the UN as a negotiating forum for climate change." 

The agreement text came out of two separate negotiating forums, the "Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol" and the "Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention".  The formal agreements, to be found here and here, respectively.  There are two negotiating tracks within the UNFCCC because the parties to the Kyoto Protocol do not include all of the countries that are signatories to the UNFCCC, most notably the United States.

What to do with the Kyoto Protocol, expiring in 2012, was the source of the most contention during the summit.  I worried last week that the Cancun Summit could fail under the divide between developed and developing countries, enshrined as a part of the Kyoto Protocol.  Kyoto is fatally flawed because it asks everything from developed countries, while asking nothing from developing countries - which include many of the world's largest emitters, like China (#1), India (#4), Brazil, and Indonesia.  It was further weakened because the United States, bowing to political and economic reality, chose first not to ratify it, then to withdraw from it.  The Cancun Summit ended in success simply because it decided to 'punt' on the issue of whether to continue Kyoto after it expires in 2012. Next year's summit in Durbin, South Africa will be the last conference before Kyoto's expiration, so this question will have to be addressed by then.  

Although the Cancun Agreement dodged the question of Kyoto, there are some significant achievements of note.  It formally commits the parties of the UNFCCC to ensuring that climate change does note exceed 2 degrees of warming over this century.  On mitigation (agreements to reduce emissions), the Cancun agreement codifies the voluntary mitigation targets agreed to by signatories of the Copenhagen Accord. This is a huge milestone, because it is the first time that all major economies have pledged explicit actions in a UNFCCC document since its creation in 1992. It also made significant steps on a climate financing mechanism for adaptation and mitigation by developing countries.  It delegates to the World Bank the responsibility for creating a "Green Climate Fund" that would mobilize the pledged funding of $100 billion a year in public and private financing promised by 2020.  

In January 2010, I wrote in an IISS Strategic Comment that "the success of the Copenhagen Accord had yet to be seen".  The Cancun agreement essentially adopts the Copenhagen Accord, including the emission mitigation targets voluntarily submitted by approximately 80 countries and the measuring, reporting, and verification compromise agreements - largely negotiated between the United States and China.  The Cancun Agreements successfully brought the Copenhagen Accord into the UNFCCC negotiating process.  Therefor, upon further reflection, it seems that Copenhagen, too, was a bit of a success, had it been judged against any standard that wasn't so ambitious to say that Copenhagen as the "Summit to save the planet". 

At Cancun, negotiators yet again failed to save the planet - the mitigation targets agreed to could bring up to 3 or 4 degrees of warming over this century - but they did succeed in creating much of the global architecture that one day could help to save the planet.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cancun Climate Summit Troubled by Copenhagen's Divisions

For the past two weeks, government officials, climate campaigners, and the traveling circus that follows international negotiations have descended on the tropical resort island of Cancun on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. 

The Cancun summit was not supposed to come up with a formal global deal on climate emissions.  Instead, it was to make incremental progress on agreements for financing of adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, and agreement on “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD).  There is also continued hope that the two largest emitting countries, China and the United States, can come to agreement on how to monitor, report, and verify actions on emissions.  Action on this is important to the United States, so that they know that any agreements negotiated will be fulfilled.  Likewise, it is important to China to resist overly intrusive measures that would compromise their national sovereignty.  Hope was raised on agreement on this issue in remarks made by China Huang Huikang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's envoy for climate change talks: 
"We can create a resolution and that resolution can be binding on China. Under the (U.N. Climate) Convention, we can even have a legally binding decision. We can discuss the specific form. We can make our efforts a part of international efforts."  
Ultimately, the goal of Cancun was to act as a bridge to the 2011 summit in South Africa, in hopes of negotiating a formal settlement there. 

However, there is an issue that has arisen as the most important and contentious – and threatens to bring down the talks: whether countries will agree to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol after its planned expiration date in 2012.  Many negotiators, including the United States, thought that the Kyoto Protocol – signed by President Clinton in 1997, never ratified by the Senate, and formally withdrawn from in 2001 by President Bush – had been finally killed by the Copenhagen Accord last year. 

The division over Kyoto boils down to the same developed/developing country divide that plagued the Copenhagen Summit last year.  By and large, developing countries want to extend Kyoto, and developed countries want to switch negotiations to a treaty that would look like the Copenhagen Accord.  The foundation of this dispute is that the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated and agreed under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”.  What that means in practice is that developed countries are responsible for making verifiable emissions reductions, while nothing is asked of developing countries.  The United States and EU argue that it is unfair to ask developed countries to reduce their emissions, while large developing countries, including China or India – the 1st and 4th largest emitters in the world, respectively – are not asked to reduce their emissions.  Not only is this inequitable, it is inefficient – because businesses could simply more their production from a place like Europe – where carbon emissions are limited by law, and therefore cost money – to China, where carbon pollution is not limited.  In the terms of the climate change debate, this is called ‘Carbon Leakage’ and it implies that global emissions (the only thing that matters for climate change) could actually go up by limiting emissions in one area, but not in another.  So far, only Japan and Russia have formally come out against extending Kyoto, but Canada and other countries are also likely to oppose an extension. 

However, with some developing countries, support for Kyoto has become a symbol of anti-western solidarity.  Most developing countries, however, are in favor of extending the Protocol, with some Latin American countries, notably Bolivia and Venezuela, saying they will not support any agreement that comes out of Cancun unless it continues the principles of the Kyoto Protocol.  This threat is credible because Venezuela, Bolivia, and Sudan blocked formal ratification of the Copenhagen Accord last year over similar concerns. 

Another factor in the debate about the Kyoto Protocol is that the United States is not a signatory to the Protocol, and an extension of it would mean that the US is not involved.  The American negotiators are insisting that agreement that comes out of Cancun moves beyond Kyoto and recognizes the legitimacy of the Copenhagen Accord and the 2020 emission targets which both developed and developing countries made when they signed onto it. 

A failure to come to any agreement in Cancun would probably spell the end of the UN as a negotiating forum for climate change.  Last year’s Copenhagen summit left a bitter taste with many participants, because of the inability to negotiate among such a large and unwieldy body.  Already, forums like the G-20 and the Major Economies Meetings on Climate Change and Energy Security are beginning to supplant the UN.  

Interesting Links:
The UNFCCC is very transparent in the negotiations.  Anyone wishing to follow today's negotiations can watch it here.  The Cancun Summit's home page is here

The IISD's reporting service has done an excellent job summarizing each day's conference.  You can find it here.  

Finally, the newspaper doing the best job in their coverage of this is the Guardian, here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Melt - Asia Society

The Asia Society's "China Green" project has a new video out on their website called "The Melt" that gives a very quick, but important overview on how the glaciers in the Himalayas are changing, and the impacts that are being felt by the people who live in that area.

The video is clearly of very high production quality, and relies not only on interviews of western researchers, as sometimes happen in these sort of productions, but they also sent a film crew to Tibet to chronicle the changes in glaciers.

Source: Asia Society
I've written about this on our blog several times.  Its important to remember that, although the IPCC report was wrong to say that all the glaciers may be gone by 2035, they are melting - at an increasing pace.

Some quick quotes from the video: "It's mostly about water"  "If this keeps going, people and animals will no longer be able to get enough water".  The focus on water as the first, and most important impact of climate change on human society tracks exactly with the findings of the IISS.

Videos and projects like this are extremely important, because they are not only aimed at western audiences.  By traveling over to China and interviewing people in Tibet, videos like this can raise awareness within China too about the impacts of climate change. As the two largest emitters of carbon, the US and China are the key players in acting to reduce their emissions - and nations act only when it is in their interest to act.  This video makes it clear that China, and Tibet, are already paying the costs for climate change.

I tried to have the video embedded here, but they have not released the code.  Head over to their website, and  watch the whole 10 minute video.  It is well worth your time.