Rumors and Pessimism Reign in Cancún

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Rich nations aim to replace the Kyoto Protocol with the Copenhagen Accord, eliminating compulsory emission reduction targets

by Emilio Godoy
IPS, December 4, 2010

CANCÚN, Mexico, Dec 4, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – At the end of the first week of climate negotiations under way in this Mexican Caribbean resort city, it seems a distant possibility that the nearly 200 national delegations will agree on renewing the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), acknowledged Friday that the threat of failure appears to be gathering force each day at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) to the convention, Nov. 29 to Dec. 10.

“I don’t see the possibility of ensuring a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in Cancún,” the Costa Rican diplomat told TerraViva in a press conference on the status of the talks. Figueres took over the UNFCCC post from Yvo de Boer, of Netherlands, in July.

Figueres’s words came on a day filled with rumours about the negotiations and the tacit recognition that conflicting positions remain entrenched on central issues like financing for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting technology transfer.

The temperature rose a few degrees at the hotel complex where the summit meeting are taking place when the non-governmental organisations Third World Network, Friends of the Earth and the International Forum on Globalisation said a secret text exists that Felipe Calderón’s Mexican government, the COP 16 host, would present to the environment ministers.

This document, whose existence Figueres and delegates denied, reportedly stipulates the replacement of the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005, with the so-called Copenhagen Accord, which came out of the COP 15 held in 2009 in the Danish capital — and which does not include obligatory greenhouse emissions cuts for the signatory nations.

The Kyoto Protocol requires the industrialised countries that ratified it, listed in Annex I, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below their 1990 emissions.

“The implications are significant because it’s an agreement that is dangerous for the world. We haven’t seen responsibility being assumed by the developed countries,” Kate Horner, Friends of the Earth activist, told TerraViva.

A group of nations led by Canada, Russia and Japan opposes the extension of the Kyoto Protocol. “We would prefer a Kyoto Protocol Annex I (that includes) certain developing countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, China and South Africa,” said Akira Yamada, Japan’s deputy director-general of foreign affairs.

That stance, known well before the Cancún summit and emphasised over the course of the week, has irritated the delegations of several developing nations, including the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), which emerged in 2004 in a cooperation agreement between Venezuela and Cuba, and today includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and various Caribbean nations.

“The messages we are hearing is that there is no chance that a commitment period will be agreed in Cancún, and the only thing viable at this point would be a very watered-down and superficial decision,” Venezuelan negotiator Claudia Salerno told the press Friday.

As such, COP 16 seems to have been infected by “Copenhagen syndrome,” given the inability of the delegations in Cancún to issue an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States — the world’s second-leading emitter, after China — has not signed.

The Protocol, signed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, covers just 27 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is why Japan has said it will not be party to a continuation of this treaty.

The chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol, John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), presented a new draft to the delegations Saturday in a bid to achieve a document that can be presented to the national ministers of Environment, who begin their sessions on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

The agreement under discussion in Cancún “would entail each nation committing to reducing their emissions at a level decided by each one, but there would not be an obligatory reduction goal for everyone,” said Pablo Solón, chief of the Bolivian delegation.

Despite their criticisms, the ALBA representatives have not threatened to abandon the talks.

Next week, presidents Hugo Chávez, of Venezuela, and Evo Morales, of Bolivia, are to arrive in Cancún, among some 30 national leaders who will mark the final results of the climate summit.

“On the issue of mitigation, we need to have a next step in Cancún,” said Figueres, former negotiator for Costa Rica on environmental matters.

The developing nations here want assurance that there will be an effective mechanism for measuring, reporting and verifying emissions, in order to prove that their actions, such as forest conservation, contribute to fighting climate change.

The delegations are also discussing the creation of a fund to provide resources for adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change. So far, there are five proposals for a financing scheme — one presented by Mexico in 2007.

It remains to be seen whether the parties “create a fund in Cancún, and later decide on the design, or begin with the design, and then create the fund” at COP 17, to take place in the South African city of Durban, said the UNFCCC executive secretary.

Long before the Cancún summit began, the different negotiating blocks had lowered expectations that it would produce significant results.

The predictions instead pointed to agreements about financing adaptation and mitigation measures in less-industrialised countries, and a mechanism to reduce emissions resulting from deforestation.