10 Can Cancún?

This article was written in November 2010 during the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Cancún[1]

While welcoming delegates to the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), President Felipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa of Mexico said that climate change has been driven by changes in human behaviour, and that a shift in another direction is needed to reverse the trend.

He intoned that the world must embark on the pursuit of ‘green development’ and ‘green economy’ as the path to sustainable development.

He also stated that some of the steps to be taken to attain this ideal include progress on the negotiations on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), as well as development of technologies to reduce fuel emission.

These were nice words. These were also very contentious ideas. There are several red flags and concerns about REDD by indigenous groups and forest dependent peoples, as well as mass social movements across the world. The idea of canvassing the extension of financial assistance to the poorest and the most vulnerable countries is also seen by critics as a possible way of dividing them and making them pliable to suggestions and decisions that may actually be contrary to their best interests.

Even before the Cancún conference opened, there were concerns that efforts may already be afoot to rig the outcome, as was the case in Copenhagen in 2009. One concern is about a text for negotiation that is emanating from the chair of one of the working group through an opaque process.

Another concern has arisen from a decision of the Mexican president to invite selected heads of states to the conference. The list is not openly available, but already it is becoming clear that some uninvited presidents intend to be in Cancún.

Last year in Copenhagen, the COP began and ended under a cloud of doubts and perceived undemocratic actions. At that meeting, many delegations from developing and vulnerable nations believed that drafts of what would be the final outcome document were being discussed and circulated within privileged circles, away from the standard practice where such negotiations take place on the open conference floor.

In Copenhagen, there was a steady flow of leaked documents allegedly prepared by the president of the COP. The anxiety in Cancún is being raised by the texts prepared by the chair of the ad hoc working group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA). The other major working group under the COP is the one that deals with the Kyoto Protocol and another text is being expected from the chair of that working group, also without a mandate from the working groups, according to analysts.

The year between conferences is spent in technical negotiations and preparations during which delegations review texts prepared by chairpersons of the working groups on the basis of the submissions made by the delegations or members.

The document produced by the chair of the LCA appears to be something quite at variance with what many delegates expected would be the outcome of the negotiations and work done since Copenhagen. The document that delegates is to debate is allegedly based on the ‘Copenhagen Accord’, which some delegates insist was not an agreement at the end of COP15, but was merely taken note of by that conference.

Questions are being asked why such a document would now be legitimised and made the foundation for serious negotiations expected to produce a fair and ambitious agreement at the end of the conference in Cancún.

After the Copenhagen conference ended without an agreement, the government of Bolivia hosted a first ever World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba in April 2010. The outcome of that conference was the Peoples Agreement that the government of Bolivia then articulated into a formal submission to the UNFCCC and the secretary general of the United Nations.

The essential fault line between those following the path crafted by the Copenhagen Accord and those who do not accept it as the way towards fair agreement that recognises the principle of common and differentiated responsibilities, are quite serious, and the resolution has deep consequences for the future of our planet and the species that inhabit it, including humankind.

The draft text circulated by the chair of the LCA puts forward the ambition that may lead to an aggregate global temperature increase of up to 2 degrees Celsius, as opposed to proposals made by a number of delegations that the target should be between 1 degree and 1.5 degrees temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. A 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase would mean catastrophic alteration to some parts of the world, with Africa being particularly vulnerable.

The text in question has also disregarded the demand by vulnerable nations that to ensure urgent and robust technology transfer for the purpose of mitigation and adaptation, such transfers should not be governed by subsisting intellectual property rights regimes.

Another sore point in the text is that the financial commitment proposed does not step up to the level of ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis, and is even less serious than what was suggested by the so-called Copenhagen Accord.

The immediate past chair of the COP in her final statement indicated that the conference must move in a way that would show that Cancún can deliver a good outcome for tackling climate change. At the end of the first day, the clear question on many minds was, can Cancún?


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