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CAN we in Cancun?

December 1, 2010

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Will the world move a positive direction at the end of the 2 weeks of negotiations? Admittedly, at the current moment an huge air of uncertainty exists to what will emerge. The Mexican Government brokering the talks seem extremely positive that many issues can be settled. The Executive Secretary also has a similar feeling that countries can rebuild trust and derive substantial and incremental results.

Allow me to elucidate a few key features that I feel has marked the conference’s opening.

Viability of UNFCCC process

Many statements were made on how the Cancun meeting will be a test of the viability of the multilateral UNFCCC process to solve the climate issue. There has been a lot of talk of taking major decisions outside the UNFCCC context (ie. the G20). However, this undermines the fact that all countries should have a say in decisions that will affect everyone. Those countries that wield the least power and often those who will suffer the impacts the most. Papua New Guinea also brought up an interesting point, saying that countries should be ready to have a plan B if all else fails and there is no consensus, citing the fact that it is important to move things forward even without the consent of every nation.

Consensus, Compromise and Balance

In their opening statements, many parties as well as the UNFCCC secretariat emphasized that key to success in Cancun is that Governments are able to bridge the differences by compromising and also by having balanced outcomes. The big question is that if we compromise too much, will we be sacrificing ambition as current proposals on the table are already so weak. Will a so called “balanced package” be so watered down that it practically achieves nothing?

Uncertainty over the outcome

What will emerge after 2 weeks is extremely unclear. One thing that is clear is that there will no legal treaty here. Expectations range from a political accord similar to that of Copenhagen to individual decisions concerning the many subissues to basically nothing (no settlement of which options to take with regards to the many subissues as well as the individual disagreements within those options). There are also many versions of negotiating texts floating around from the many intersessionals that have been held this year and it is unclear which ones will be used at the moment.

Transparency, trust and process

It seems as if the trust that was lost in Copenhagen is slowly being rebuilt here in Cancun. The onus is on the developed countries to fulfill their pledges they have promised in terms of fast start finance and their current mitigation targets. Commitment to ensuring the Kyoto Protocol stays alive is also crucial to maintain that trust.

Also, the Mexican government has been trying importantly to ensure that the negotiating process is transparent and accountable to all parties to avoid the debacle of the “friends of the presidency” from last year.

Highlighting links between extreme weather events in 2010 directly with anthropogenic climate change

Many countries have tried to inject more urgency into the Cancun process by mentioning the numerous extreme events happening this year from the Pakistan floods to the Russian wildfires and linking them to anthropogenic climate change. These links are unprecedented, highlighting the fact that countries have recognized that climate change impacts are increasingly evident year after year.

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