Incremental progress

The Cancún Agreements did not resolve the big questions of climate change. The future of the Kyoto Protocol was left uncertain. With a second commitment period ruled out “under any conditions” by Japan (and supported by Russia), the next option would have been a mandate – to launch negotiations for a new treaty.  The small islanders proposed exactly that, with support from the EU and several others (including SA) – but none of the US, India and China were ready to make that move. With a comprehensive agreement out of reach, why was there a mood of euphoria in the final plenary?

Well, partly it was sheer relief. After the failure of last year’s negotiations in Copenhagen, the rather modest step forward achieved in Cancún in 2010 was greeted by most governments enthusiastically. They point to the establishment of new institutions – an Adaptation Committee, a Technology Mechanism and the Green Climate Fund.

The gains made, however, represent incremental progress. Where advances are made, they were on technical issues.  Technical issues are important, and can lay a solid basis for action at the national and local levels. But even in this regard, gains were partial, with many matters either put into work programmes or deferred to the next meeting in Durban in December 2011.

From a developing country perspective, there was much conceded. With Kyoto in intensive care, the mandate for a two-track approach is significantly weakened. Instead of firm commitments to reduce emssions in developed countries, the Cancún Agreements only “take note” of targets. Even the weak pledges made are reflected in a treaty, but as “information”. Meanwhile, the system of measuring, reporting and verifying actions by developing countries is being strengthened. Not least, Cancún decided on “international consultation and analysis” – a multi-lateral process that is aimed at ensuring transparency.

Why did developing countries accept these compromises.  The US came to Cancún offering “finance for transparency”, and pretty much got that deal. The lure of “fast-start funding” of $30 billion up to 2012 was in the Copenhagen Accord.  Now, the money is put into the Green Climate Fund. From early on, Mexican President Calderon had put his support behind a fund.  No significant progress was made on scaling up funding to the $100 billion per year in 2020.  Despite input in the form of a report by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Finance, the issue remains where the money will come from – public or private sources.  And a conditionality is put in the decision on such funding, that it depends on “meaningful mitigation action and transparency in implementation” by developing countries. At least it should become possible to track funding – a process to enhance reporting on finance by developed countries in their national communications should allow clearer information whether the finance has been delivered – at least across public sources.

The Adaptation Committee could also become an important institution. Adaptation has been dealt with in a fragmented fashion previously.  Now there is a committee, to oversee the Cancun Adaptation Framework. But, on has to add, the implementation still needing to be filled in – and the funding secured.  Balance of funding between adaptation and mitigation is agreed in the short-term, but not in the long-term. Given that many major players do not see adaptation as part of the core deal, the future of adaptation and its funding remains an areas of concern.

On technology, too, a Mechanism.  This includes a Technology Executive Committee

and a Climate Technology Centre and Network. The functions of the institution to promote technology development and transfer advanced reasonly far. Thorny issues such as intellectual property rights remain, but there seems to be some willingness to enhance cooperation.

Overall, the Cancún agreements are firmly in the realm of incremental progress. The approach is definitely not that of treaties which set clear targets and time-tables. Rather, it is pledge and review.

Will the Cancún Agreements solve the climate problem? Clearly not, certainly not on their own, and without significant further work. The gap between what is politically feasible and what is required by science remains huge.  The UNEP report on the emissions gap (see earlier post) made this abundantly clear.

The agreements effectively acknowledge this, by agreeing that a review of adequacy must be conducted from 2013 to 2015. Governments know that what they can agree is not enough. The best, for now, is to agree to look at it again later and to strengthen commitments.  Meanwhile, for every extra year spent talking, the gap gets bigger. And the challenge gets greater.

1 thought on “Incremental progress

  1. The trend that the negotiations are taking is not new. The same thing is happening with the Doha negotiations and yet we have been led to believe that progress is being made. It appears that when ever the West has no political will to conclude negotiations nothing ever comes to an end. African countries have to look beyond the promised aid that comes with these protracted negotiations. Important issues like climate change should be addressed at the regional level. Once we have a common stand as Africa, we can then push for the conclusion of these negotiations. We need to be proactive….lest Durban find us at exactly the same spot….. Cancun broke off!

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