Can Cancun do what Copenhagen could not? Negotiations have resumed after the failed climate conference of December 2009 but few believe that a strong agreement will emerge at the 16th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Mexico later this year. Climate negotiations have generally lost traction, and the chances for a deal appear to have receded to the 2011 meeting in Africa. For the developing nations that are fighting poverty with fast-paced economic growth, even the idea of a low carbon economy is far from settled. That is not surprising because in the developed world, with its far greater capacities, industry is still waiting for agreed global standards on carbon accounting, which is essential to undertake voluntary actions. Also, there is justified concern at the policymaking level that the equity-based principle — of common but differentiated responsibility for the rich and poor countries — is under threat, post-Copenhagen. That was evident last month during the sessions of the UNFCCC Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action in Germany, when the controversial concept of peaking of emissions for developing countries by 2020 was sought to be introduced into a fresh negotiating text.
Attempts to equate developing country liabilities with those of the developed world divert attention from the real issue. It is that rich countries need to cut emissions even deeper than what has been promised. That argument was firmly made by the outgoing executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn recently. The current pledges made by the industrialised countries cannot achieve the 25-40 per cent emissions reduction that the IPCC says is necessary to try and limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius. It is not helpful either that this wealthy bloc, which did not take its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol seriously, has left the reference year for emissions targets unspecified. There is a lot of disappointment in climate talks, but the global South is engaging in some enlightened cooperative actions. A promising example is Brazil's technology transfer programme with China, under which it is using satellite mapping to assess forest loss; the two countries are also helping Africa in the area of biofuels. These are good models. They cannot, however, replace a working global agreement. What is needed is a deal that enables liberal transfer of funds and technology in the short term for green energy production in the emerging economies, which will account for an estimated 93 per cent of the increase in energy demand in just two decades.