Friday, January 14, 2011

Cancun - 3 Questions & Answers

The following guest blog is a cross-post from Zizzo Allan Climate Law. Co-founder Travis Allan made the rather enviable early Winter trek to Cancun to gain a personal, real-time perspective on the event as it unfolded. This summary of Cancun follows my earlier post - COP16: Dispatches from the Front Lines - which provided a mid-conference update on the negotiations.
These are some answers to the most common questions we’ve received after Cancun.

1. What do the decisions mean?

Cancun ended with a series of decisions that should help developing countries reduce their Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to a changing climate, solidify the role of Carbon Capture and Storage, clarify rules around forestry and international reporting and create a new framework for technology transfer to developing countries. Negotiators did not create a new treaty to replace or extend Kyoto, but they did put in place some stepping stones that will increase the chances of that happening next year in Durban, South Africa.

Funding for Developing Countries – The Parties decided to create a “Green Climate Fund” that will oversee a  “significant’ share of new funding from developed countries to developing countries. The decision creating the Green Climate Fund also recognized that developed countries have committed to a goal of making 100 billion US dollars per year available to developing countries by 2020. The Green Climate Fund is expected to manage a portion of the 100 billion USD commitment.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – After much wrangling, it was decided that CCS (which usually involves storing carbon below the ground instead of letting it release into the atmosphere) is eligible as a project activity under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) subject to a number of issues being resolved. The CDM covers the most well-known carbon offset credits, which are allowed into the European Emissions Trading System and governed by the UN. Even though Canada is not eligible to host CDM projects, this decision is still relevant since the Federal and some provincial governments have invested and continue to invest significant resources into CCS technology and research. This could also be relevant because CDM methodologies are often used as a template for voluntary carbon credit protocols (assuming a CDM CCS methodology is developed and Canada still doesn’t have an applicable GHG emissions cap). 

Forestry – The Negotiations agreed that “Parties should collectively aim to slow, halt and reverse forest cover and carbon loss, according to national circumstances…” The parties also made progress the longstanding question of how to measure a country’s carbon stored in forests. Forestry accounting will now generally be done at a national level, but negotiators agreed that sub-national reference levels could be used as a temporary measure (based on national circumstances). This is a step forward for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) because it provides important guidance to countries getting ready to put a number of their forest carbon, but the decision didn’t answer important questions such as whether countries can use financial mechanisms (such as carbon offset credits) to incent REDD activities. 

Monitoring, Reporting and Verification One of the biggest sticking points in negotiations between developed and developing countries is transparency. Developing countries often complain that developed countries are secretive about their aid commitments, while developed countries are worried that developing countries either can’t, or won’t properly report their GHG emissions information. In Cancun, both sides made commitments on these fronts, a big stepping-stone in advance of Durban (see also the World Resources Institute analysis under “Transparency and Reporting” here). 

Technology Transfer – Developing countries and many international climate commentators believe that developed countries are obligated to share technology that will help developing countries reduce their GHG emissions and also adapt to a changing climate. The negotiators agreed to establish a technology mechanism that includes a Technology Executive Committee and a Climate Technology Centre and Network.

While the technology mechanism is a big step, it isn’t yet clear how these bodies will function in the UN system and a lot of technology issues were left undecided. In particular, negotiators didn’t address intellectual property, which is the most contentious technology issue. 

Kyoto (and post Kyoto) Cancun didn’t create a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and it didn’t set up binding targets for the period after the KP’s first commitment period, which ends in 2012. It did, however restore trust and come to decisions that will hopefully set the stage for success in Durban.

Some of the important decisions reached around the Kyoto Protocol include taking note of the commitments for additional reductions made by Annex 1 (developed) countries in the lead up to Copenhagen and confirming that emissions trading mechanisms will continue to be available to Annex 1 countries (as an aside, the Cancun decisions also took note of developing country pledges leading up to Cancun). 

2. Does the UN still have a role to play in climate regulation?

Many commentators have argued that the success of Cancun has kept the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC – the UN body that coordinates the UN system’s approach to climate change) relevant.

Claire Demerse, the Pembina Institute’s Associate Director of Climate Change concluded “Although the result is very far from perfect, the Cancun talks took real steps forward — and along the way, showed that the inclusive UN process for climate negotiations can work, despite the vast differences between the countries that took part.”

Before Cancun, Jennifer Morgan at the World Resources Institute wrote “If Cancun does not bring progress, much of the energy around an international agreement will likely move from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to other fora.” The WRI team concluded after Cancun was over that this pressure was a key factor in the success of the negotiations.

One of the most interesting last-minute developments was the decision by Mexican Foreign Secretary and Conference President Patricia Espinosa to approve the agreements over the objections of Bolivia. She noted that while decisions are made by consensus, this doesn’t “mean that one country has the right to veto” decisions supported by everyone else. 

3. How did Mexico do as host?

The short answer is that Mexico did a great job. Mexican government representatives were roundly applauded for being committed to transparency and for finding consensus on some difficult issues. CTV notes that “Espinoza garnered praise from delegates and media alike for managing the egos of countries such as Japan and Russia, who resisted calls to agree to further emissions cuts after targets agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012. ZoĆ« Caron Climate Policy & Advocacy Specialist at WWF-Canada’s writes “This year’s president of the conference, Patricia Espinosa, however, focused first and foremost on rebuilding an effective and transparent international process. And she succeeded.”

While they were extremely clean and efficiently run, it was unfortunate that the conference facilities spilt up civil society events from the negotiations. Negotiations, held in a hotel called the Moon Palace, were a 15-20 minute bus ride from the main hall (Cancun Messe) where NGOs and UN agencies had their side events. Side events are presentations and Q&A sessions held by interested groups to updated conference delegates, including negotiators, on key issues around climate. Separating the facilities might have increased security and led to more room, but it also made it very hard to attend side events and negotiations on the same day, and likely resulted in a decrease in the number of negotiators and national leaders attending side events.

Turning to the conference as a whole, however, the Mexican hosts and the UNFCCC worked extremely hard to create an open and productive atmosphere to make progress on an international response to climate change. With the building blocks noted above and others, such as

Thanks Travis!
~Rob 

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