The sights are set on a smaller, though just as important, issues

With the first commitment to emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol expiring in December 2012, the world is looking to a new regime of cuts, which is unlikely to be successfully negotiated here.

In 2009, the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen set a target of achieving a binding treaty and it did not happen. Now the sights are set on a smaller, though just as important, issues.

Saleemul Haq, senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London, says there are two broad camps. One is the extremists or absolutists, the all or nothing group. The second group is more pragmatic; it looks to the “doable” and there could be some progress here.

A positive outcome

In terms of negotiations, the Copenhagen conference was close to an agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) plus, adaptation and technology transfer, but the only question was how much money was available or would be given by the developed countries. A positive outcome was that for the first time, $30 billion was promised as fast start climate finance over the next three years. However, this offer was made so late that it was simply not enough to overcome the negative momentum last year.

According to an IIED study, of the $30 billion, only $3 billion was meant for adaptation, which was not balanced at all. Adaptation funding was under-exploited by countries. The other issue was the channel of funding. Every developed country wanted its aid agencies or banks to route the money while the developing world wanted it through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A few countries like Spain have pledged €40 million to the UNFCCC.

Cancun is all about money, according to Dr. Haq. He said the promised Green Fund could materialise sooner or later. The U.S. had a strong preference for routing funds outside the UNFCCC. The developed nations had a mental frame for assistance — it was a paradigm of charity still. However, it was important to understand that this was an agreement where the recipients had a say and it was not charity, he pointed out. For instance, Norway had given $5.4 billion. The French were giving loans for the fast start period of three years. With the promise of more finance after 2012, the Green Fund could be a reality.

However the danger in not having a binding treaty was that matters could be accomplished outside the U.N. framework. The ‘polluter pays' principle enunciated in the UNFCCC clearly put the onus on the polluter. It was not a charity at all. The problem was serious enough to warrant payment.

Matters were in an incremental phase, he explained, and the time for a “big bang” would come five years later when the fifth assessment report by the UNFCC would be out. China, which was heavily investing in new technologies, was looking to a post-carbon phase and it could lead the way five years from now, he predicted.

However, Dr. Haq was clear that even if climate change negotiations went out of the purview of the U.N. to the G-20 level as was widely expected, the UNFCCC could not be killed. Even in the G-20, environment agreements dominated and energy agreements were related to climate change measures. But such unilateral actions could not curb temperatures increase to below 2 degrees Celsius as committed by the industrialised countries. Any hope of binding emission cuts was dim with the resurgence of Republicans in the U.S. and climate change deniers.

In the third world, climate change was accepted as a reality. China had also realised that the fossil fuel era was over and it was making a transition to cleaner technologies. Maldives, though a small country would be carbon neutral in 10 years, he said.

Other sources closely tracking the negotiations say that a Green Fund is a possibility here. So was a Cancun Mandate of sorts that would determine the outcome of the groups working to meaningfully negotiate the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol. It will take some lengthy negotiation to convert the delicate portions of the Kyoto Protocol into a long term binding commitment.

Copenhagen is a lesson that smaller agreements are possible if one did not aim big. It remains to be seen if that lesson has been learnt a year later.