Trying to Salvage a Deal in Cancún: Eleventh Hour Negotiating Text Released

The document desk at Moon Palace

Updated 7:25pm

The UN climate change negotiations in Cancún were originally supposed to be over at 6pm CST. Instead of heading to the beach, bars, or nightclubs, delegates were treated with a new negotiating document at 5pm and the promise of all-night talks in an effort to finish the two-week session with a “positive outcome.”

This document is being poured over right now by delegates in advance of another stock-taking meeting at 11pm. What happens at that point is anyone’s guess.

But here are some highlights from my quick, first read of the document:

  • On the vision for long-term action, the document keeps the Copenhagen Accord goal of a 2° limit on global warming but also calls for a review beginning in 2013 and concluding in 2015 to see if the science calls for a safer goal of 1.5°.
  • Gas emissions should peak “as soon as possible.”  There is no specific date listed, but it calls for working “towards identifying a time frame for global peaking.”  Most economists argue the sooner we peak, the cheaper the adaptation costs.
  • On mitigation for developed countries, it asks developed countries to communicate their emissions goals to the Secretariat and leaves to the future the precise mechanisms for identifying how they will do this (e.g. the role of offsets, land use, etc…).
  • Significantly, the mitigation section makes no mention of Kyoto and has no specific numeric targets or a deadline for developed country mitigation actions!   The first emission is less problematic because of advances on the Kyoto track of negotiations while the latter makes the document extremely weak.  You really need to have SOME target if you are going to reach the 2 degree goal!
  • On mitigation for developing countries, the document calls for them to take “appropriate mitigation actions…aimed at achieving a deviation in emissions relative to ‘business as usual’ emissions in 2020.”  Like the developed countries, they will communicate their actions to the secretariat.  The implications of some of the language is hard to decipher, but in this section the document explicitly uses the worlds “voluntarily inform.”
  • On monitoring and verification (a big concern of the US): goes for domestic verification “in accordance to guidelines to be developed under the Convention”–whatever that means.  This is clearly an attempt to bridge the US and China dispute on monitoring and verification.  The latter sees international monitoring and verification as an infringement on its sovereignty.   Will it work?
  • On fast-start finance: it “notes” the Copenhagen accord commitment of $30 billion through 2012 and “invites” donor countries to submit information about their spending.
  • Decides to establish a Green Climate Fund with a board comprising 24 members with equal developing and developed country.  It “invites” the World Bank to be the fund’s interim trustee.  representation.
  • The AWG-LCA will continue to discuss legal options

I am sure there is more that I am missing, but on first glance it looks like this is a document meant to operationalize the Copenhagen Accord.  It keeps the 2 degree ambition, but fails to recognize that there is a gap in the Copenhagen commitments achieving that goal.  It asks all countries to reduce emissions or emissions growth, but has no strong mechanisms to insure countries keep their word.  And it doesn’t resolve the controversy over the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

Parties are scheduled to debate this text at around 11pm.  It should be a long night.

Update: The absence of the Kyoto language may be less of an issue, since Richard Klein tells me there has been an agreement on the other negotiating track to have a second commitment period for the protocol.  Everything is still tentative since both of these texts will still be debated later this evening.

Posturing Accelerates in the Waning Hours of Cancún

Officials Preside Over High-Level Segment (photo: UNFCCC)

The UN climate change talks are in their last 48 hours. Ministers are here in Cancún as the conference enters its “high level segment.”

In an ideal world, the previous week and a half of talks would have produced a document that the ministers could laud whilst waxing admiringly about the ultimate effectiveness of multilateralism.   However, as the past few years of talks attest, the ideal world doesn’t exist.

Skepticism emerged last week on the part of many small and poor developing countries who were concerned about secret negotiations and a repeat of Copenhagen where world leaders of a small number of countries flew in and essentially hijacked the talks.

In response, the Mexican president of the conference–Patricia Espinosa–went to great lengths to stress transparency and openness.  However, that appears to  not have been enough to quell concerns about backroom dealing.

Last night, Espinosa held a meeting with 50 ministers to try and bridge gaps.   The meeting came on the heels of reports that the Indian environment minister, Jairam Ramesh revealed that India would not be averse to accepting legally-binding emissions cuts.  The day before, China reiterated its position that it rejects this idea.  Some observers see this as a significant breaking of the strong alliance that the two countries forged through their deal-making with the US last year at Copenhagen.  Of course, a major provision of the Copenhagen Accord was that emission mitigation actions should be voluntary.

For the rest of today, ministers and the leaders who came to Cancún will continue to give their statements in the public portion of the meeting.  It is certain that behind the scenes talks are continuing and documents are being developed.

On the penultimate day of negotiations the positions are clear: the US wants to see a “balanced package of decisions” which links financing to the Global South with movement on a verifiable emissions reduction commitment on the part of large developing nations;  large parts of the developing world  want the continuation of the Kyoto system that binds developed countries to a new round of emissions cuts.

Will the gap be bridged by new compromise alliances? Or will the talks essentially end with a resounding thud?

High-Level Ministers Arrive in Cancún, Little Progress in Negotiations

Saturday's COP16 Plenary (photo:UNFCCC)

Delegates at the UN climate change conference in Cancún held “stock-taking” meetings and a key negotiating document was released over the weekend as high level ministers arrived for the final week of negotiations.

The memory of the last-minute deal in Copenhagen was clearly on the minds of many negotiators as the Mexican Minister overseeing the negotiations took the unusual step of scheduling an “informal stock-taking meeting” on Sunday, the only scheduled break in negotiations during the two-week period.

The document released on Saturday did little to resolve major issues related to long-term emissions mitigation and financing, which have plagued the talks for the last year.  One interesting insertion was language pertaining to the Kyoto Protocol.  Developing countries have been adamant about keeping the Kyoto distinction between the two, given the fact that it is a legally-binding instrument that requires emissions cuts by major emitters.

Options in the new document acknowledge the Kyoto framework for countries currently parties to the protocol, but also provides for mitigation actions from the US as well as from the large developing country emitters.

In an ideal world it could continue Kyoto, bring the US to accept Kyoto-like mitigations, and also put developing countries on the record for appropriate mitigation actions.  Early reports suggest this approach may satisfy China.

It is interesting to see this “Kyoto-+” approach emerge in the texts since a middle path between rejecting Kyoto’s second commitment period and starting over has been mentioned for at least the past two years.  It seems to be a testament to the glacial pace of international negotiations.

Taking Stock of Week One in Cancún

Cancún Messe (photo: Friends of the Earth)
Cancún Messe (photo: Friends of the Earth)

As is normal with the international climate negotiations, progress has been slow this first week in Cancún. With expections for a substantive agreement at a low point and major issues between developed and large developing countries still evident, it is perhaps to be expected that movement towards agreement would be elusive.

Although the breadth of issues where gaps exist is large, one major fissure that was exposed this week was the future of the Kyoto Protocol.  Japan’s announcement early in the week that it would not agree to a second commitment period for the Protocol is seen as a dramatic abandonment of the only global legal instrument in place to deal with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.  If Japan isn’t committed to the treaty negotiated on its own soil, then why should anyone else?

This position has generated animosity–particularly from China–who insists on second period. 

For the United States–which is not a party to Kyoto–the concern is that the dispute over Kyoto will derail any limited progress that has been made.  US negotiators have been unrelenting in their support for the Copenhagen Accord–the political document that emerged from last year’s talks.

Although it is unlikely that the voluntary commitments laid out in the accord will be sufficient enough to meet the accord’s target to limit global warming to 2 degrees, senior US negotiators have said that they would rather start with a set of ambitions that are agreed upon in theory and then strengthen them, instead of seeing talks fail.

In the background are revelations from the WikiLeaks cables documenting developed country duplicity in climate talks over the past two years.  Just as was the case last year, there are rumors of a “secret text” that will kill the Kyoto Protocol.

While that may or may not be the case, there is expected to be released today a more refined document based on the negotiations that have taken place over the past several days.  What is included or excluded from that text will  set the contours for next week’s discussions.

The Balancing Act in Cancún: Early Impressions of COP-16

Delegates in COP16 Plenary (photo: UNFCCC)

The United Nations climate change negotiations are underway in Cancún and the rhetoric from the major developed country parties is that they are searching for “a balanced package of decisions.” The top US negotiator, Todd Stern, used that term last week in a pre-conference press conference in Washington and Stern’s deputy on the ground in Cancún, Jonathan Pershing, deployed the similar language in a press conference on Monday.

So what does this mean?  A somewhat ominous article in the Guardian suggests that the US is adopting an “all or nothing” approach to the talks.   Essentially, the US is pushing large developing country polluters like China and India to submit to emissions cuts from business-as-usual that are internationally monitored and verifiable.  In the absence of this, the US will be less likely to support key developing country concerns, such as financing for climate adaptation and technology assistance.

One reflection of this tension can be seen in the proceedings of the AWG-LCA–the negotiating stream that is looking for an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol.   A negotiating text was prepared in August for this track, but at 70 pages, it is unwieldy and doesn’t resolve key issues on safe levels of global warming, who should mitigate emissions and by how much, and how emissions should be monitored and verified.

A shorter (33 page) text listing “possible elements of the outcome,” was prepared in the interim by the AWG-LCA chair.  It largely papers over the differences in the negotiating text by accepting many of the elements of last year’s Copenhagen Accord to the extent that it presents a 2 degree warming threshold and a financing ambition for developing countries of $100 billion (USD) by 2020.

Like the Copenhagen Accord, the “possible outcome” text is sketchy on how to monitor emissions, actual emissions mitigation numbers,  and how the financing mechanism will operate.

What is significant here is that the Copenhagen Accord is essentially being used as a basis for determining what exactly is in the so-called “balanced packages.”   Because the US has pushed so hard for some type of international monitoring regime, it will be important to see how these discussions bear out over the next few days.

India has emerged as a broker of compromise, setting forth a proposal for international monitoring.  This would meet US concerns, but at this point India is offering its proposal in exchange for keeping the Kyoto Protocol track alive–something that the US (and now Japan) are not interested in seeing.

China has been the most vocal about resisting US demands for an international monitoring regime, so their response to India’s gesture will be another key development to watch for over the coming days.

I’ll be blogging “live” from Cancún beginning tomorrow, so stay tuned at this site or over on twitter.

Minding the Gap in Cancún

photo: edgeplot

The United Nations Environment Programme released a report last week on the eve of the UN climate change negotiations in Cancún taking stock of last year’s Copenhagen Accord.

The Accord was the document that came out of last year’s negotiations.  It is a document that aspires to restrict global warming to 2˚ centigrade but is not legally-binding.  Consequently it relies on voluntary pledges from nations to reduce their emissions.

This report essentially runs the numbers submitted by various countries and compares them to climate modeling scenarios that would “likely” result in the 2 degree stabilization.  Because there is no consistency in the commitments submitted by 138 countries in response to the Accord, the report develops four basic implementation scenarios.

The main takeaway is that no matter how you cut it, the Copenhagen Accord commitments are likely insufficient to keep global emissions at a level that limits global warming to 2 degrees.

The report does indicate that the gap can be lessened by having strict accounting for land use offsets and for limiting the number of Kyoto-era reduction credits applicable to Copenhagen Accord commitments.

One of the main problems with the Accord is the lack of specificity in how it “counts” emissions reductions and offsets.  Although the meeting in Cancún is not expected to result in a legally binding treaty, there could be movement towards developing a shared understanding of some of these ambiguities.  Whether negotiators choose strict accounting methods or allow a multiplicity of loopholes could give some indication about the efficacy of the Accord and the seriousness of the 2 degree warming limit.