Mix of optimism, consensus and compromise at Cancun

The Cancun Agreements were adopted around 3.45 a.m. on Saturday to much applause and relief at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Bolivia raised strong objections, refusing to endorse any document without binding emission cuts.

The mitigation provisions of the Copenhagen accord of 2009 were put into a U.N. framework in these agreements which include long-pending decisions on finance, technology transfer, transparency, a Green Climate Fund, a Cancun Adaptation Framework and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). COP president Patricia Espinosa took note of Bolivia's objections and said the country had been given ample opportunity to present its case. She called the agreements a landmark outcome and was overwhelmed by the support she got from all 193 supporting countries.

The hope that Cancun would deliver a “balanced package” was expressed often enough during the U.N. climate change conference, which started here on November 29. But few expected the positive response evoked by the draft texts released on Saturday evening. At an informal plenary, most countries did have reservations but supported the texts and the role played by the host, Mexico. Bolivia, which demanded that the parties go back to the negotiating table, has threatened to take the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Both the Working Groups for the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) and further commitments for the developed countries or Annex 1 parties under the Kyoto Protocol adopted the draft texts. The conference, which was slated to end by 6 p.m. Friday, continued into the next day with informal plenary sessions and discussion on the two drafts. After the failure to achieve any binding agreement at Copenhagen, Cancun has managed to deliver a package, though not perfect.

“Trust deficit bridged”

Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, speaking during an informal plenary, said: “The trust deficit has been considerably bridged.”

The agreements said there should be no gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in December 2012, and the second phase. However, the agreements merely call on the developed countries to “raise the level of ambition of the emission reductions to be achieved by them individually or jointly, with a view to reducing their aggregate level of emission of green house gases…”

The agreements allow flexibility in choosing the base year for setting emission reduction targets. Emissions trading and the project-based mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol shall continue to be available to Annex 1 parties as a means to meet their quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives. However, the Cancun outcome could have an impact on the Kyoto Protocol since there are no binding emission reduction targets for the developed countries and it favours a pledge and review system of voluntary emission reduction commitments. In the context of the long-term goal and the ultimate objective of the Convention and the Bali action plan, the idea is to work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing emissions by 2050 and to consider it at the 17th session next year. But no figures are mentioned.

Vague provision

The agreements recognise that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required as documented in the fourth assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb the increase in global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In the absence of any firm target, this could be an inadequate and vague provision.

However, for the first time, the agreements emphasise that in all climate change-related action, human rights must be respected. They also recognise the need to engage with a broad range of stakeholders, including youth and persons with disability, and call for gender equality and effective participation of women and indigenous people in effective action on all aspects of climate change.

Japan too was enthusiastic about the drafts and gave them the thumbs up. In addition while all BASIC countries are on board now, the drafts negate the three non-negotiable aspects the countries set out during the conference.

Last Monday the BASIC countries said three issues were non-negotiable, including the necessity of a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. The outcome at Cancun must be built on an agreement on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, they declared. The two other issues were the need to accelerate disbursement under the fast start finance in the form of new and additional resources through a multilaterally supervised mechanism and recognition of the importance of continued dialogue on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as part of the technology development and transfer issues.

There is no mention of the words IPR in the agreement, though the technology transfer mechanism has been detailed. The controversial REDD is also part of the package and proposed mitigation actions include conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks and sustainable management of forests. The agreements propose a Cancun Adaptation Framework to strengthen and address implementation of action, and various kinds of assessments, apart from research and development and a host of issues. The agreements propose to enhance transparency by the developing countries and emphasise the role of market based mechanisms to promote mitigation action.

Green Climate Fund

On finance, the agreements call for information on the fast start finance promised last year at Copenhagen by the developed countries. They endorse the pledge by the developed countries to provide $ 100 billion annually till 2020 and say a significant share of this new multilateral funding should flow through the Green Climate Fund, which is also established. This new fund will be the operating entity of the UNFCCC financial mechanism. The fund will be designed by a transitional committee, with 15 members from the developed countries and 25 from the developing nations. The technology mechanism will facilitate technology development and transfer, through a Technology Executive Committee and a Climate Technology Centre and Network.

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