Bridges Cancun Update #2 | Question of Kyoto Threatens Progress

6 December 2010

Mounting opposition to the Kyoto Protocol by select developed countries in Cancun is testing the tenability of whether global climate change regime is achievable; however, a subtle tone of optimism floats through the corridors at this year's major climate change negotiations as the first week of negotiations come to a close. Most of the discussions taking place at the opulent and sprawling Moon Palace beach resort have been closed to outsiders. The mid-point stock-taking session indicated advances in a number of key areas. In the final week ministers and presidents are being asked to unravel the most difficult and contentious issues and determine if an agreement in Mexico is possible.

Negotiations are taking place under four separate tracks in Cancun. The two subsidiary bodies addressing scientific and technical aspects as well as implementation of the Convention brought dozens of issues to a close, but left a number of brackets for further consideration. The other two more prominent negotiations on long term cooperative action and the future of the Kyoto Protocol achieved mixed success over the first week. Much like the awkward disparity that separates the down-to-business attire of COP attendees from the bikini-clad tourists, the diversity of positions represented thus far in these talks is dramatically distinct. Indeed, while some areas appear ripe for consensus, others are in need of far more work than is likely possible in the next week.

New draft text on long-term action

Closing the end of the first week, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe - chair of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) - released a new version of the negotiating text for delegates and their incoming ministers to consider.

Upon releasing the draft text, Mukahanana-Sangarwe highlighted progress on adaptation, particularly on institutional arrangements and functions. On mitigation, she underscored ongoing consultations, noting the need for additional work. The chair also noted that agreement on finance, particularly long-term finance and establishment of the proposed fund, was "close." Technology transfer negotiations are also "closer to compromise solutions," she said carefully. On capacity building and a shared vision, the chair cautioned that more work and compromise will be needed to deliver an outcome.

The 33 page draft addresses climate funding and commits developed countries to providing US$100 billion per year by 2020 for adaptation. The text also reiterates familiar language on the need to make deep cuts to industrial emissions as a crucial element of efforts to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The draft also calls for a review on whether the two degree cap should be clawed back to one and a half degrees in light of new evidence from scientists on the increased frequency of natural disasters.

While a number of these issues are truly ready for agreement here in Cancun, they may not find their way into the final decision if countries are unable to remove blocks on a few of the more contentious issues, such as the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, increased targets for developed countries and the measuring, reporting, and verification of developing country mitigation.

Green groups, which have been regular critics of developed countries' positions in climate negotiations, have expressed approval for the new text. Gordon Shepherd, WWF's Global Climate Initiative chief, praised the text for its strong language on commitments and called it a "good basis for negotiation." Still, he cautioned that the text should address the separation between financing pledges under the Copenhagen Accord and the reality of current commitments. "We would like to see a process in place immediately that looks at the gap and how to close it," Shepherd said.

But despite optimism on movement in the LCA talks, it is far from a done deal. Widely divergent opinions on several issues still remain. For instance, discussion on the legal form of the Cancun outcome has proven to be a difficult issue with views ranging from including it as a COP 16 decision to bringing it in as a process during the intersessional period to assigning the task to the AWG-LCA (or separate subsidiary body) . Still, the chair's draft text speaks to the many divisions and, in several instances, offers multiple options on ways to proceed.

Mexico pushing for movement on forests

Week one also saw host country Mexico emerge as a strong proponent of the enhanced the UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). In the lead up to COP 16, REDD+ was the subject of much speculation that it would move forward in Cancun. Mexico appears to have adopted the issue as a pet project with the direct involvement of President Felipe Calderon. REDD+ has been singled out as one of the few issues that could move forward in absence of a complete climate package.

However, blockages by Bolivia and Saudi Arabia are threatening to derail the talks. Bolivia has taken issue with what it believes is a lack of safeguards to ensure indigenous communities do not lose control over customary lands. Meanwhile, sources say Saudi Arabia is holding out on the issue as a means of leveraging its position on other issues. Addressing those in attendance at Forest Day, taking place on the sidelines of the COP, President Calderon implored negotiators to make movement on the issue, stressing the need for urgent action.

Kyoto: the make or break issue

The continued and forceful push by a handful of developed countries to end the Kyoto Protocol after its first period in 2012 is one of the pivotal issues upon which these talks hinge.  Japan - the country that that put climate change on the map when it hosted the Kyoto talks in 1997 - shocked many on the opening day of COP 16 with a forceful statement that they could not agree to the extension of Kyoto. "Even if the Kyoto Protocol's extension becomes a major item on the agenda at Cancun and Japan finds itself isolated over it, Japan will not agree to it," said Hideki Minamikawa, vice minister for global environmental affairs at the Environment Ministry.

While Japan's position on Kyoto is widely known, the timing of announcement was read by many as a signal that opposing parties may not be able to bridge essential gaps in Cancun. While not all countries have revealed their cards on the Kyoto issue, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada have also indicated their opposition to continuing the Protocol.

Over the last year, developing countries have repeatedly called on the world not to "kill" Kyoto.  Many of the developing countries have noted that they will not agree to mitigation action under the LCA unless they see deeper emission cuts by developed countries under Kyoto. At the same time, the United States in particular is insisting that there will be no agreement on any issue in Cancun - even those that have reached consensus - unless there is agreement on mitigation for developing countries. India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh called the Kyoto conundrum "the make or break issue."

Ministers are slotted to consult on a number of outstanding issues under Kyoto and  the LCA this week. Discussions began at an informal dinner hosted on Saturday by the Government of Mexico and will continue in smaller groups throughout the coming week. The ministers will deliberate individual questions under each of the tracks, but there are rumours that they will also address the tracks jointly. Many developing countries and observer organisations consider that this "collapsing" of the two tracks will effectively end Kyoto and place developing countries in a compromised position vis a vis their negotiating partners.

As week two gets underway, the pressure of time will quickly reveal which issues are likely to find resolve in Cancun and which will carry over to Durban's COP17 next year. As Mexico's foreign minister Patricia Espinosa stressed at the opening of the COP, timing is crucial and the clock is ticking. "It is time to make a concerted effort before it is too late," she said. "We can only achieve results if we commit to making progress."

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