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Cancun Week 1

December 7, 2010

It is the start of week 2 of the Cancun climate negotiations and the outcome from the conference is still very much in doubt. Talks have progressed at a slow pace and stark differences still remain between different countries with regards to structuring the framework of long-term cooperative action towards tackling climate change effectively and according to what science says is necessary.

Informal texts released on both further commitments by developed nations and one more focused to cumulative global efforts are still filled with different options that still vary substantially in terms of ambition. It is difficult to predict what kind of final agreement will come out of Cancun, whether it will be a simple set of decisions that are vague on substance or more of a mandate to progress onwards to a legally binding deal at the next meeting in South Africa next year.

Key developments from the first week are as follows,

Emphasis on “balance”

Almost all countries have mentioned this term at one session or another. Simply put, it means there’s something for everyone. A lot of talk is how countries should be be willing to compromise their positions and move forward in a constructive manner. However, I personally feel that this may be difficult as key principles as well as ambition may be sacrificed in search of a deal that everyone may be agreeable to. This process also has led to splits within blocs of countries, most notably G77 and China wherein positions drastically vary in the case of Bolivia compared to Saudi Arabia.

Second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol

This week, Japan explicitly mentioned that it will not sign on to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It is certainly ironic that the only current legal treaty to tackle climate change forged in Japan is being killed off by that same country. This move has threatened to destroy the basic trust between developing and developed countries. Developing countries see the commitment of developed countries to the Kyoto Protocol as the most significant signal of their intent to take the lead in reducing their emissions. The doubt regarding the Kyoto Protocol post 2012 is certainly one of the stumbling blocks of the Cancun talks so far.

Mexican transparent handling of the process

The Mexican Presidency of the COP16 process has made it very clear that they desire to engage all stakeholders equally in the negotiating process. They have emphasized time and time again in official plenary sessions and at other venues the fact that there will be no secret talks, no secret closed door meetings and no secret texts that characterized the last few days of Copenhagen last year. The Mexican Government has mentioned repeatedly that the process will be transparent and are willing to listen to everyone who wants to contribute to the process.

Interlinkages between the different sub-issues

A balance package in some observers’ eyes entails that the different issues of mitigation, adaptation, Measuring Reporting Verification (MRV), technology transfer and finance are all interlinked. For example, if developing countries are to adopt strong mitigation action plans, some argue that the amount of tech transfer and finance provision from developed world should commensurate.  MRV has been a politically loaded issue, with many countries debating what kind of stringency and implementation standards there should be with regards to developing country action.

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