I have recently had the good fortune of receiving some insight from friends and colleagues participating as observers at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) taking place in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. It encompasses the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), as well as the thirty-third sessions of both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the fifteenth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and thirteenth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA).
I have attempted to compile and summarize their thoughts as best I can. I hope you will find them as helpful as I have to better understand the current status of the negotiations as they move into their second week.
As in Copenhagen, the critical divisive issue in the Cancun negotiations is whether or not there will be a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. A decision in Cancun would set the foundation for a new international agreement at COP17 in Durban, South Africa. Most developing countries are very concerned about "form" - i.e. that commitments are enshrined in a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol - whereas most non-EU Annex I countries are emphasizing "substance" - i.e. if there are significant mitigation commitments by all major economies post-2012, it should not matter that these are not made under the Kyoto Protocol. The EU negotiating bloc is open to a second commitment period under Kyoto, but is urging flexibility and trying to broker a compromise between the Annex I and developing country blocs.
Currently, there are two negotiation tracks - the AWG-KP and the AWG-LCA. The Chair of the AWG-LCA released an unofficial text on Saturday which has become the basis of the UNFCCC negotiations from now on. It is available here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/awglca13/eng/crp02.pdf In addition to their political aversion to Kyoto, many Annex I countries are frustrated about the inefficiencies and duplication of negotiation efforts that result from a two-track process.
In the COP/MOP (Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol) plenary Saturday evening, the UMBRELLA GROUP negotiating bloc advocated for a single, comprehensive agreement instead of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. (The UMBRELLA GROUP generally includes most non-EU industrialized countries, including Canada, United States, Australia, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, and Ukraine.)
In contrast, the G77 & CHINA negotiating bloc (which includes most developing nations) was very firm that a second commitment period under Kyoto is essential to any agreement. The LDC (Least Developed Counties) and AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) blocs supported the G77's strong stance on a second Kyoto commitment period. Most individual developing countries that made statements in addition to their respective negotiating blocs emphasized the importance of the continuation of Kyoto. India, in particular, spoke very strongly in favour of Kyoto and the fact that it rests on industrial countries' historical responsibility for emissions, as opposed to the UMBRELLA group's desire for commitments from "all major economies".
The UNFCCC process requires consensus for decision-making, and it is doubtful at this point that any compromise will be reached between the pro- and anti-Kyoto states. Realistically, the developing countries will not be able to force the UMBRELLA group - especially Japan, Canada and Russia - to accept a second commitment period under Kyoto. In the opinion of one observer, G77/LDC/AOSIS efforts would be better spent at this point negotiating a single, comprehensive agreement including ambitious mitigation targets and the aspects of Kyoto - such as emphasis on historical responsibility - that they are so concerned about maintaining. It is possible that they are engaging in "positional" negotiation tactics and maintaining their strong pro-Kyoto position in order to extract maximum concessions in an alternative agreement. However, there may be too much domestic political pressure for many countries to abandon their Kyoto positions. A non-Kyoto agreement may be considered a political "loss", regardless of the substance of the agreement.
On a more positive note, however, there is still a lot of momentum and commitment by government and observer participants at COP16 on action against climate change. The scientific imperatives are ever stronger, and everyone recognizes that immediate action is necessary. It is predicted that Bolivia and Venezuela will soften their positions and allow an agreement on REDD+ to be finalized, although Saudi Arabia may condition their agreement on the inclusion of CCS under the CDM.
In addition, efforts have been made since Copenhagen to create obligations and initiatives that are independent of the UNFCCC process. The EU ETS caps have been set for 2020 regardless of whether there is a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, and voluntary and regional emissions trading initiatives are gaining strength across the globe. International action on climate change is fragmenting, but it is still progressing. Party negotiators are aware that the relevance and credibility of the UNFCCC process is at stake, which may be the greatest motivation towards compromise and an agreement in Cancun.