Latest Negotiating Document Released in Cancún

Early this morning the chair of the key group negotiating a global climate agreement in Cancún released a vision for “Elements of an Outcome” from the deliberations of the past two weeks.

As might be expected, the document makes minimal progress on some of the key issues keeping countries from coming to an agreement.  On one level, the document could represent a step backward.   The chair’s stock-taking document, released on Saturday, included a vision for holding global warming to 2° centigrade.  This ambition is highly contested by many parties.  In today’s document the 2° number was ‘bracketed” (meaning there is disagreement) and joined by options for 1° and 1.5° warming.

On other key points, it is hard to know whether the new document is an advance, a stagnation, or something else entirely.   For example, the Saturday document called on the world to insure that emissions peaked “as soon as possible,” where as today’s document has that language bracketed and joined by a specific year for peaking (2015).  The science and economics tell us that an earlier peaking date is more advantageous than one far off in the future, so seeing the 2015 year in the text is positive.  On the other hand, the fact that it was inserted means that some parties are not satisfied with the vagueness of the earlier text suggesting  little movement towards some compromise.

On the mitigation actions to be taken by developed countries, the issues I described in my previous post have not been resolved.  The document continues to walk the line between the future of the Kyoto Protocol and a new agreement by incorporating language about continuing Kyoto emission obligations in the new document.  But the specifics about what the emissions reductions should be for developed countries are missing.

The same thing applies to the issue of developing country mitigation actions.  The US has been pushing China and India to submit their reductions to international scrutiny–something that those countries do not want to do.  Instead, they assert that they will develop their own domestic procedures.  This is not likely going to satisfy the US.

One advance in the new text are particular timelines for resolving the reporting and verification issue.  For both developing and developed countries, the new text gives parties a year to develop more specific guidelines on how to understand and compare mitigation actions between countries.

On the issue of developing countries receiving finance for the transition to low-carbon sustainable development, there are still significant unresolved issues.  The nature of the fund to be established to finance these activities is not clear.  Options in the text include having the World Bank run the fund, the UNFCCC, or have some new managing authority.

I haven’t had the chance to look really closely at the new text in comparison to Saturday’s, but the fact that it is actually longer and is ambiguous on so many key points suggests a quagmire at best.