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?