Climate Negotiations on the Eve of Cancún

Christina Figueres (photo: UNFCCC)

International negotiators and civil society will be descending on the Mexican resort town of Cancún later this month for the first major UN climate change conference since last year’s much-hyped get-together in Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen conference failed to produce a significant international agreement causing many to downplay expectations for the COP16 conference in Cancún.

Yesterday, the head UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres gave a press briefing previewing her expectations for the conference.

She declared that there is “optimism for the planet” and “optimism at the multilateral level” for the UNFCCC process.

One interesting point she made to justify her optimism was that many countries have adopted more ambitious domestic climate plans than their international positions reflect. When pressed for examples she cited China–which is continually criticized by the United States for not agreeing to a sufficiently transparent method for verifying emissions.

As far as actual accomplishments she expects to see in Cancún, she mentioned that there should be a resolution on what should be done with the Kyoto Protocol. This seems pretty ambitious. One of the main problems of the negotiations has been the two-track approach endorsed in Bali three years ago. The first commitment period under Kyoto is set to expire in 2012 and by all accounts it has been ineffective in dealing with the global climate problem. Much of this has to do with the fact that developing countries are exempt from mandated emissions cuts and the United States does not accept the protocol.

The US would certainly like to see the Kyoto negotiating track get scrapped, but China and India are steadfast in their insistence that Kyoto be the mechanism to reflect the “common but differentiated responsibilities” of different countries.

This will be a key point to watch during the negotiations. It is likely that the US and the EU are working to get other major developing countries like Mexico, for example, to show more flexibility on the future of Kyoto. How things proceed in the Kyoto negotiation stream (AWG-KP) will be a key element to follow as the negotiations transpire.

Beginning tomorrow in suburban Washington, the main US negotiator, Todd Stern, will be convening a meeting of the major economies. This group includes India, China, the European Union and other key players. Although the future of Kyoto will not likely be resolved, the delegates will be discussing ways to deal with international monitoring of emissions by taking up a proposal from India.