The last week of formal UN climate negotiations before next month’s Cancun conference closed on Saturday. The big questions are: has enough progress been made in 2010 to ensure that Cancun results in a viable outcome, an outcome that transforms last year’s Copenhagen Accord into formal operational decisions? Is the future of multilateralism secure?
In short, some progress seems to have been made, which of itself bodes well. However, whilst progress has been made in isolating issues to be taken forward, none of the major “big picture” issues (eg. the form of an eventual legal outcome or the level of ambition for emissions reductions) have been resolved.
The pre-Tianjin AWG-LCA negotiating text will be the basis of discussions for Cancun, with a number of new draft papers having been separately prepared for behind the scenes discussions by the parties. An updated AWG-KP negotiating text will be also discussed.
Mitigation: This sprawling agenda item, discussed in the AWG-LCA, principally covers the issue of developed and developing country targets and actions for reducing their emissions, two of the most contentious issues on the table. At Tianjin, a few Parties seemed to be taking the mitigation ingredients cooked up at previous UNFCCC negotiations with a hefty pinch of salt. The Copenhagen Accord clearly means many different things to those who signed it. So it will be a diplomatic feat to get these discussions back on track in Cancun.
REDD negotiations have slipped back a little: the REDD text, so nearly signed, sealed and delivered at Copenhagen, has now been reopened for debate. REDD Partnership discussions at Tianjin did not run smoothly either. Shipping and aviation emissions were discussed, but these negotiations have perhaps been overshadowed by separate developments at the IMO and ICAO, which will be reported on at Cancun. As so many options being discussed in relation to mitigation remain in square brackets, the extent to which market-based mechanisms will be included in an outcome from Cancun hangs in the balance.
Discussions about emission reduction targets for a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period, in the AWG KP, continued to engage with complex issues such as LULUCF accounting rules, carry over of AAUs, comparability of targets and the use of market mechanisms. We understand that Parties are increasingly converging in their views on reference years and the length of commitment periods. A major area of concern relates to a “gap” between Kyoto Protocol commitment periods. The twin-track approach has its doubters. At Tianjin Japanese negotiators stated, for the first time, that a second commitment period is not their preferred outcome. Lack of progress on developed county emissions reductions continues to be a major stumbling block. This must be resolved before (or during) Cancun, in order for there to be any meaningful agreement on climate change.
Finance: Discussions continued in relation to the establishment of a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund and its design, operation and governance structure. The conditionality of finance remains contentious, as does how to roll out the “agreement reached” in this respect pursuant to the Copenhagen Accord.
Technology: The mandate and role of the Technology Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network were discussed. Negotiations seemed to be going along nicely early in the week but subsequently flagged. There are now concerns that new thorny issues are being shoe-horned into the text.
The cross-over, or otherwise, between discussions in the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP continues to be problematic. This is a vexing issue that has been around for a significant length of time. It is difficult to imagine what will break this impasse.
Seasoned UNFCCC Observers are predicting that the Cancun outcome should include: adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology and capacity building, already a relatively ambitious outcome. As much debate still exists around these points, not all of these may make the final cut, but significant editing will not be politically palatable. In any case, too robust a set of decisions might result in a compromise that allows parties to consider that the “job has been done”, reducing the impetus for a beefed up legally binding outcome to be agreed in the future.
Given the complexities we have set out above, it seems the best we can hope for is that the Cancun meeting will mark a significant milestone on the road to South Africa for COP17 and that it will help to underscore the achievability of a comprehensive, globally acceptable deal being reached in the future. The threat of bilateralism looms.