November 2010, Week 5


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Mon, 29 Nov 2010 21:56:49 -0500
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Gearing Up for Cancun 

Tina Gerhardt | November 28, 2010

Published on The Nation (http://www.thenation.com)


Expectations are low that the United Nations's upcoming
two-week climate conference, which kicks off in Cancun,
Mexico, this Monday, will produce a legally binding
international agreement among the 194 nations in
attendance. Nonetheless, negotiators, nonprofit
organizations and activists are flocking to the luxury
resort in droves.

The climate negotiations in Cancun will seek to achieve
four goals: 1. Establish levels of greenhouse gas (ghg)
emissions reductions of developed countries, such as
the United States; 2. Set ghg reductions for developing
countries, such as China and India; 3. Secure funding
and technology transfers from developed countries to
developing countries, to help them address and adapt to
climate change; and 4. Decide on a method to monitor,
report and verify (MRV) the agreed upon targets of an
international climate treaty.

Nations gathering at the summit have made some progress
on these topics leading up to the COP 16. All of the
world's leading emitters have agreed to cut their
emissions. Historically, the EU and the US are the
biggest emitters. This week, the EU reiterated its
commitment to 20 percent ghg emissions reductions by
2020 based on 1990 levels, offering a 30 percent
reduction if other nations make matching offers.

Its offer is in line with the reduction targets
recommended by most scientific bodies. The UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for
example, argues that ghgs need to be reduced 20 to 40
percent by 2020 based on 1990 levels, in order to limit
global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit)
over 1990 levels and avert irreversible climate change.

The US's offer falls far below what's needed: it's
offering a 17 percent reduction by 2020 levels but
based on 2005 levels, which amounts to a measly 3 to 4
percent reduction based on 1990 levels.

Developing nations, such as China and India, have
proposed cuts based on their economic growth with China
offering a 40 to 45 percent reduction and India
pledging a 20 to 25 percent reduction both by 2020 and
based on 2005 levels.

This week, the United Nations Environment Program
(UNEP) stated that current pledges are not enough to
keep temperatures below 4 degrees by the end of the

Developed countries have agreed to provide funding and
clean energy technology to developing nations to help
them adapt to climate change, such as rising sea levels
and increasing desertification, through fast-track and
long-term funding. Through last year's Copenhagen
Accord, developed nations agreed to $30 billion in fast
track funding for three years between 2010 and 2012,
and to $100 billion per year in long-term funding by
2020. These amounts are far less, however, than amounts
called for by negotiators from various nation groups,
such as the Africa Group, the Alliance of Small Island
States (AOSIS) and LDCs, which are already experiencing
the worst impacts of global warming. And to date only
26 percent of the pledged amount has been committed;
and only 13 percent has been received.

Yet a bigger cloud looms over the COP 16 that threatens
to put a damper on any agreement over ghg reductions,
funding pledges and monitoring and reporting of

In fact, serious tensions threaten to derail the UNFCCC
process entirely. At the heart of these skirmishes are
two camps: those nations who want to extend the Kyoto
Protocol and those nations, including the United
States, who want to ram through the Copenhagen Accord.

What are their differences between the two? Drawn up in
1997, the Kyoto Protocol is an international legally
binding agreement that is set to expire in 2012. It put
forward obligations for ghg emissions, demanding that
developed countries, such as the United States and
those in the European Union, which have historically
been the biggest producers of emissions, lead the way
in reductions.

The Copenhagen Accord, by contrast, is a backroom deal
brokered between Brazil, China, India, South Africa and
the United States that flouts the UNFCCC's two main
principles: transparency and inclusiveness. And the
Copenhagen Accord puts the onus on developing
countries, such as China and India, to establish
emissions reductions. Furthermore, unlike the Kyoto
Protocol, it is not a ratified legally binding
international agreement.

The majority of the UNFCCC's 194 member nations support
the Kyoto Protocol and their work revolves around two
items: getting the United States, which is the only
country not to have signed on, to ratify the treaty;
and securing an extension of it beyond 2012.

The nations opposed to Kyoto and supportive of the
Copenhagen Accord are typically putting the entire
UNFCCC negotiating process into question, arguing that
it is too unwieldy.

The UN Secretariat Christiana Figueres, who took over
the helm from Yvo de Boer in May, recently reiterated
the importance of adhering to the key UN principles of
transparency and inclusiveness, in order to produce
results at Cancun.

Mitigation of climate change also requires an agreement
on deforestation, which accounts for 15-25 percent of
ghgs. And while the UN put forward a mechanism aimed at
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest
Degradation, it is not welcome by all indigenous
populations or forest-dependent communities and their
involvement is key to addressing deforestation. The
mechanisms through which the funding is provided, which
range from public funding to private speculation, will
also be hotly contested.

While lead climate negotiators and NGOs discuss these
issues inside the Moon Palace Hotel, people will take
to the streets to agitate for climate justice.
Organizations such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace,
Focus on the Global South, Rising Tide and Via
Campesina will be coordinating actions throughout the
week. There will be a Klimaforum, an initiative kicked
off in Copenhagen, to provide a convergence space in

The positions of climate justice activists vis-a-vis
the outcome of the climate negotiations vary widely.
Some hope an international climate agreement will
emerge this year or next. Others hold out no such hope
and argue that the COP 16 provides an opportunity not
only for activists to gather and make their voices
heard but also to build alliances that transcend
national boundaries, while working to address climate
change locally and regionally. The last large-scale
summit that took place in Cancun in 2003, the WTO
negotiations, broke down due to dissent expressed by
southern nations. The collapse of these talks, the
second after Seattle in 1999, was largely read as a
game changer for the global financial system and for
free trade agreements. We'll see if such a radical
change emerges from this year's COP 16. 

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