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Africa: Key Issues at Cancun
Dec 3, 2010 (101203)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The possible bright spot in Cancun could be a decision to create
a new climate fund in the UNFCCC and under the authority of the
Conference of Parties. The discussion on this is quite advanced.
Agreement to establish the new fund would be a limited gain, as the
details of the fund [would remain to be determined]...
Nevertheless, it would be an advance ... But Cancun may be
deprived of even such a simple outcome." - Martin Khor, South
Expectations for the Cancun climate summit, now underway, are low,
and media attention is down dramatically from last year's
Copenhagen meeting. Real progress on climate change action, if it
happens, will be influenced more by measures taken at national
levels than in any international agreement. But the signals from
Cancun, however modest, will nevertheless help set the tone in the
coming year, before next year's meeting in Durban, South Africa.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a summary of key issues at Cancun, from
Martin Khor of the South Centre.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today (and available at
http://www.africafocus.org/docs10/can1012b.php) contains excerpts
from Clearing the Air: Moving on from Carbon Trading to Real
Climate Solutions, a report from Friends of the Earth England,
Wales and Northern Ireland. The report clearly lays out policies
that have a real impact, in terms of mitigation and finance, most
of which are not dependent on the prospects of internationally
For ongoing commentary and debate on climate change issues,
including coverage of Cancun, AfricaFocus recommends the following:
Friends of the Earth International Blog
Science and Development Updates
Other recent articles and reports of particular interest include:
Critique of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest
Degradation), by Subhankar Banarjee
November 29, 2010
http://www.climatestorytellers.org / http://tinyurl.com/2aujkfj
Report on potential for 2020 from Global Solar Energy
http://www.altenergymag.com / http://tinyurl.com/2cte6kw
"Standing on the Precipice: Demands for the Cancun Climate
Negotiations," Briefing by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and
"Africulture and Food Systems in Africa in a 4° C + world"
International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate change and the
environment, visit http://www.africafocus.org/envexp.php
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++
Key Issues in the Cancun Climate Conference
By Martin Khor (Executive Director, South Centre)
SouthViews, No.14, 30 November 2010
Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre
For more information, please contact Vicente Paolo Yu of the
South Centre: email email@example.com, or telephone 41 22 791
A year after the chaotic Copenhagen summit, the 2010 UNFCCC
climate conference begins in Cancun. Expectations are low this
time around, especially compared to the eve of Copenhagen.
That's probably both good and bad. The conference last year had
been so hyped up before hand, with so much hopes linked to it,
that the lack of a binding agreement at the end of it and the
last-day battle over process and text made it a near-disaster.
Few expect this year's meeting in the seaside resort of Cancun to
produce anything significant in commitments either to cut
Greenhouse Gas emissions or to provide funds to developing
countries. Thus if Cancun ends with few significant decisions, it
won't be taken as a catastrophe. It will however be seen as the
multilateral system not being able to meet up to the challenge.
And that system will be asked to try harder, next year.
The atmosphere at the end of the meeting will of course be
crucial. The events, especially at the Ministerial segment, and
how the presence of heads of states is handled, should be
organised in a transparent and inclusive way, without the
surprises of Copenhagen. That way, Cancun will end with the
goodwill needed to carry on the work, even if there are no
spectacular outcomes here.
It would be unwise (to say the least) to try a repeat (or a
variation) of the exclusive high-level small-group process of
selected political leaders that clashed with the inclusive
multilateral negotiating process in the last days of Copenhagen,
and that produced the chaotic ending.
The process in the first week, when negotiators are expected to
work hard on the 13 August text and the Tianjin revisions to
text, that were both member-driven, will also be important. An
inclusive, transparent process driven by members themselves, is
required. Even if this takes time, it is time well invested.
Attempts to shorten this process by methods not agreed to or that
are not transparent may instead produce a short circuit and a
fire, waste even more time and result in loss of goodwill and
The lowering of expectations
On the other hand, the lowering of expectations indicates how low
climate change has sunk in just a year in the world's political
agenda. And that is bad indeed, because the climate problem has
got even worse.
2010 is already rivalling 1998 as the hottest year since records
were kept. And there have been so many natural disasters in 2010;
some of them like the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan are
linked to climate change.
Other events, especially the spread of the financial crisis to
Western Europe, and the persistent high unemployment in the
United States despite economic growth, have taken over the
attention of the politicians and public in the developed
countries. The counter-attack by climate skeptics in questioning
the science, and by politicians that don't like climate actions,
has also affected the public mood to some extent.
Also, the chances of getting a global climate change agreement
appear much more dim, as the issues are shown up to be more
difficult and complex than earlier envisaged. And when a problem
seems intractable, most politicians tend to lose interest because
like other people they don't like to be associated with failure.
And the problems in the negotiations are many, and they will
re-emerge again in Cancun. While the need to address climate
change is urgent, there is also the need for patience in getting
a successful outcome.
The Fate and Shape of the Global Climate Regulatory Regime
The main problem is the inability of the United States
administration to make a meaningful commitment to cut its
country's emissions to an adequate extent, because it is now
clear that Congress will not adopt a comprehensive climate bill.
This makes the other developed countries reluctant to firm up
their own commitments, or even retain the existing regulated
system. Many of them are still dragging their feet in stating how
much they should cut their emissions, individually and as a
group, in the Kyoto Protocol's second period that is to start in
Worse, Russia and Japan have openly stated they do not want to
continue with the Kyoto Protocol, because the US is not in it and
major developing countries do not have to join the binding
disciplines. A most depressing Kyodo agency news item was
published on the eve of Cancun, under the headline "Japan will
oppose Kyoto extension at COP16." It quotes a Vice Minister and
senior climate negotiator as saying Japan will not agree to
extend Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 even if it means isolating
itself at the UN.
Australia, New Zealand and Canada among others have also been
unwilling or reluctant to commit to Kyoto's second period. That
leaves the European Union, which says it prefers to shift to a
new system too but is still open to remaining in Kyoto if others
do. Only Norway has said firmly it agrees to a second Kyoto
The death of the Kyoto Protocol, under which the developed
countries except the US have legally-binding targets to cut their
emissions, is something the developing countries cannot accept.
They want the developed countries to cut their emissions as a
group by more than 40% by 2020 (compared to 1990), and for each
country to do an adequate cut, under the Kyoto Protocol. The
figures have to be re-calculated to fit 2013-2017 as the second
period proposed by the G77 and China.
The US was supposed to take on a "comparable effort" in
mitigation as the other developed countries, but under the
Convention since it is not a KP member. Para 1b(i) of the Bali
Action Plan was designed for that.
This was a crucial part of the overall understanding on
mitigation reached in Bali: (1) that the Annex I parties in KP
would take on adequate 2nd period commitments on aggregate and
individual reduction targets consistent with what science
requires; (2) that the US would make its own comparable
commitment in the Convention, in accordance with Para 1b(i); and
(3) developing countries would undertake enhanced mitigation
actions with financial and technological support, both of which
would be measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV).
This three-piece Bali understanding is now unravelling with
alarming speed. The KP is in mortal danger, as most of its Annex
I members show clear signs of abandoning ship. The new vehicle
they are looking to join is vastly inferior. It is the voluntary
pledge system that the US had been advocating, in which
individual developed countries state how much reduction they
would like to set as their target.
In the system, there is no aggregate target to be set in
accordance with what the science says is required. There is no
mechanism to review the commitments (individual and aggregate)
and to get Parties to revise them so that they meet adequate
levels. The mild discipline is that there will be a periodic
review on whether the Parties meet their pledged targets, but not
a review as to whether the pledges are adequate.
There has been a major battle, quite indirect and under the radar
screen at first and then fierce and open after that, over the
model of climate regime for Annex I mitigation -- the KP model of
binding aggregate and individual cuts versus the pledge and
review voluntary system. At Bali the first model was adopted, but
increasingly challenged in the many 2009 sessions before
Copenhagen. Then the fight reached a boiling point in Copenhagen,
when the US-led pledge system gained an upper hand for the first
time when the Copenhagen Accord seemed to be firmly on the side
of the pledge system, in its Para 4.
However, the balance of forces in this battle of models was to
some extent restored after Copenhagen when the major developing
countries that assisted in the birth of the Accord reaffirmed
that they needed the KP to continue into a second period, and
that they wanted the binding system of aggregate and individual
commitments that are comparable, and with reduction figures
consistent with the science. The EU has indicated it also wants
this binding system; this is important as the EU is a prime
architect and was a champion of this system. For these Parties,
para 4 of the Accord and the binding system are complementary and
For the developing countries the retention of the binding system
for Annex I parties is a touchstone, a Litmus Test to prove that
those that are responsible for most of the stock of emissions in
the atmosphere, are serious about the much-proclaimed "taking
leadership in the fight against climate change." If the developed
countries downgrade their mitigation commitment from a binding
system based on adequate efforts, to a voluntary pledge system
without a review of adequacy, then it would be tantamount to
giving up leadership, and to a deregulation of the system, and at
the worst possible time -- when there is growing scientific and
empirical evidence of the seriousness of the climate problem.
Disastrous Projection of Pledges
Top climate scientists in a new UN Environment Programme report
show how disastrously off-mark such a voluntary system can be.
Instead of cutting their emissions by at least 25-40% below 1990
levels in 2020 as required (or by more than 40%, as demanded by
developing countries), the developed countries will actually
increase their emission by 6% in a bad scenario (based on the
lower end of pledges and the use of loopholes) or will only cut
by 16% in the good scenario (based on the upper end of pledges
and without the use of loopholes). The calculations are based on
the pledges the developed countries made under the Copenhagen
These pledges, together with the figures from announcements made
by some developing countries, show that the world is moving in
the direction of a global temperature increase of between 2.5 to
5 degrees celsius before the end of this century, according to
the UNEP report. This is far removed from the 1.5 or 2 degree
"safe limit", and is a recipe for catastrophe.
In 2005 the global emissions level is estimated at 45 Giga tonnes
(i.e. 45 billion tonnes) of CO2 equivalent and in 2009 it is
estimated at 48 Gton. With business as usual, this will rise to
56 Gton in 2020, which is on the road to disaster. The scientists
in the UNEP study agree that emissions have to be limited to 44
GtCO2e by 2020 to stay on a 2 degree limitation course. Based on
the Copenhagen Accord pledges, the emissions in 2020 could be 49
Gton under a good scenario, but as high as 53 Gton (almost like
business-as-usual) in the bad scenario.
It is evident that all groups of countries have to contribute to
improving this disastrous situation. However the Annex I
countries are obliged to take the lead, and show the way. But
their pledges so far are deficient, as a group. And the intended
downgrading of the regulated system to a deregulated system goes
in the wrong direction.
A major turn-around in the attitude of most developed counties
towards their own emission reduction will be the most important
and the hardest problem to resolve in Cancun.
The Obligations Proposed for Developing Countries
Another contentious issue will be the proposed new obligations to
be placed on developing countries. At Bali, it was agreed the
developing countries would enhance their mitigation actions, and
have those actions that are internationally supported to be
subjected to MRV. The finance and technology support provided by
developed countries would also be subjected to MRV. The
mitigation actions that developing countries fund themselves do
not have to be subjected to an international MRV system.
However Bali-Plus obligations on developing countries are also
now being proposed by developed countries. These proposed
obligations include an "international consultation and analysis"
(ICA) system to be applied to mitigation actions that are
unsupported, and a much more rigorous system of reporting on
overall mitigation actions through national communications (once
in four years) and supplementary reports (once in two years).
Since the most important elements of the national communications
are also to be in the supplementary reports, this in effect means
reporting once in two years.
The Bali-plus obligations also include proposals by the EU that
developing countries together have a mitigation target of
"deviation from business as usual" by 15-30% by 2020. And many
developing countries have voluntarily announced targets for
reducing emissions growth, reducing the emissions-GNP intensity,
or even reducing emissions.
The situation has become complicated. There are many developing
countries which did not sign on to the Copenhagen Accord, so the
need to undertake ICA does not apply to them, unless the ICA
becomes accepted by all. Many of the developing countries that
associated with the Accord do not agree with the stringent MRV
and ICA systems proposed by the developed countries, as reflected
as options in the various texts.
More importantly, the MRV concept was agreed to as part of the
three-element Bali understanding on mitigation, that includes the
KP continuing into a second period, and the US making a
comparable commitment under the Convention. These two crucial
parts of the understanding involve the commitments of developed
countries and they are now under threat. Many developing
countries are questioning why they should continue to agree to
upgrading their obligations if developed countries are wanting to
downgrade their own system of commitments.
Another obligation that developed countries are seeking to place
on developing countries is to give the latter a large
contributory role in the overall meeting of long-term global
emissions goals, such as a 50% global cut by 2050 compared with
1990. If Annex I countries take on a 80% reduction, while the
global goal is a 50% reduction, this means developing countries
would have to undertake a per capita emissions cut of over 50%,
and a "deviation from business as usual" of over 80%.
These are very onerous targets for developing countries, which
also have priorities for economic development. Their development
prospects would suffer if the targets designed for them are
accepted, unless there is a sufficiently massive transfer of
financing and technology. The implications of these targets are
still not fully understood. The discussions on a global goal are
taking place in the shared vision issue.
Cancun Deliverables? New Structures in Finance, Technology and
Developing countries are also saying they are willing to enhance
their mitigation actions and to prepare more detailed reports,
but they need the funds and affordable access to new technologies
to do these. The provision of finance and technology, which are
commitments of the developed countries, is also needed for
adaptation and capacity building
The possible bright spot in Cancun could be a decision to create
a new climate fund in the UNFCCC and under the authority of the
Conference of Parties. The discussion on this is quite advanced.
Agreement to establish the new fund would be a limited gain, as
the details of the fund (including its governance and the amounts
it will have) would still have to be worked out later, through a
process that Cancun can also decide on.
Nevertheless, it would be an advance if Cancun can make this
significant decision to establish the new fund. But Cancun may be
deprived of even such a simple outcome. The US made clear in
Tianjin, and this was confirmed by a recent speech by its special
climate envoy Todd Stern, that there cannot be an "early harvest"
in Cancun such as setting up a fund.
For the US to agree to that, there must be a Cancun agreement on
mitigation, in which developing countries agree to the stringent
obligations on reporting and international analysis, and in which
developed countries undertake a pledge and review system.
At Cancun, it can be expected there will be an appeal to the US
to allow the fund to be set up, and not to tie this to conditions
that its demands in other areas be met first. The US will be told
not make the the climate fund a "hostage" to its getting its way
in other areas of the negotiations.
On technology transfer, another key issue for developing
countries, there has been progress on the technology mechanism to
be set up, an Executive Body and a Centre and Network. Again, a
decision to establish these bodies is within reach in Cancun, and
it should not be stalled on the ground that progress must first
be made in other areas.
The developing countries also want a new Adaptation Committee as
well as a new international mechanism to address loss and damage
caused by climate change. This has yet to be agreed to.
If Cancun can deliver the establishment of these new structures
in finance, technology and adaptation, it would have something to
show, and we would not leave empty handed. These are only
relatively small measures, but they are still significant, if
only to demonstrate that there are still results possible from
international cooperation in climate change. If these are not
delivered in Cancun, the smoke signals to the world will not be
good at all.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues,
with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
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