Focus on essentials

With the Cancún negotations in their last day, despite all depression and regression and post-Copenhagen stress disorder, the focus has to be on the essential outcomes. For developing countries, including South Africa, the challenge of making poverty history is the central policy concern. But we understand that climate action is urgent, and that every year of further delay makes the task more difficult – and the likely impacts greater.

Cancún must answer a simple question: Is there a future for the Kyoto Protocol? It must answer with a loud and clear “yes”. The stronger mitigation commitments of developed countries are one key reason, but it the Protocol also represents more than a decade of negotiations. If that were thrown away, not only would it most likely take another decade to get another treaty, but the result would probably be weaker. The Protocol does not end in 2012 – the way to say “yes” is by agreeing to adopt the amendment to launch a 2nd commitment period in 2013. Japan and Russia will simply have to re-consider their hard-line opposition – which says a very loud “no”.

Another treaty is needed, one that will include the US and at least some developing countries. But there is a reluctance – also from India and China – to agree to even launch a treaty negotiation.  The concern is understandable: agree now to a treaty, go down that path with the US, and find at the end that they say “sorry our Senate won’t ratify”. We’ve seen that before, in a city not too far from Tokyo. But leaders must show leadership, and if countries seek to step up on the world stage, they need to take the responsibility to take bold action that goes with this the power.

The other essential is adaptation. Mitigation is high on the climate agenda, and seen as the heart of the bargain. But without balance between adaptation and mitigation, the majority of the world is left out of the deal.  That affects the poorest communities, those least responsible for the problem. And that’s simply not fair.

Which brings me to the essential essential: equity. Let’s hope Cancún can deliver a fair outcome.

As negotiations move out of the hands of negotiators into small room where deals get done, there is still a faint glimmer of hope that Mexican Presidency will pull something out of the hat.

There may be a long night ahead from Friday to Saturday.