Storm watch for Cancun climate talks

23 November 2010

Striking a deal at this month’s UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico will largely depend on negotiators’ ability to settle stormy disputes, particularly between the developed and developing world, over six key issues.

The Mexican Caribbean resort, Cancun, is used to stormy weather. The city faces a storm season every year and every now and then gets hit by a major hurricane — most famously in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma battered Cancun with 120mph winds and a 10 foot storm surge.

This month, Cancun is bracing itself for a storm of an altogether different kind — one that will rage within the confines of the Moon Palace Hotel as parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) draw their battle lines to negotiate a global deal for action on climate change.

The delegates may broadly agree on the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but exactly how to do that remains a topic of fierce debate. There are deep divisions — especially between the developed and developing world — on several key issues. After last year’s disappointing outcome in Cancun, it is essential that a balanced deal is struck in Cancun — both to rebuild trust in the global negotiations and pave the way for a legally binding agreement at next year’s talks in South Africa.

Achieving this depends on negotiators’ ability to bridge their differences and weather the storms around the following six key issues:

1. A ‘shared vision’
First up is the ‘shared vision’ of long-term cooperative action that UNFCCC parties agreed to develop during 2007 talks in Bali, Indonesia.

Some developed countries believe the vision should focus on a long-term global goal for emission reductions, i.e. the numbers. But many developing countries want the vision to also address mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

2. Adaptation
Adaptation is sure to be another stormy issue in Cancun. The UNFCCC is clear that the developed world has a responsibility to help poorer nations — particularly those most vulnerable to climate change — meet adaptation costs.

But the term ‘vulnerable’ is hotly disputed, particularly as it will be used to determine which countries get priority access to adaptation funding. Some countries argue that vulnerable nations are those highlighted in the Bali Action Plan — least developed countries, small island developing states and African countries. But others think it should refer to all developing countries. Funding for adaptation is also a key issue to be resolved in Cancun.

3. Climate finance
It is not just adaptation funding that is proving controversial. Developing countries argue that the broader offer of climate finance on the table falls far short of what is needed. They want to see significant ‘new and additional’ money to be raised through public funding sources of developed countries.

But some developed parties want more binding action from developing countries first. Jonathan Pershing, the lead US negotiator in last month’s pre-Cancun talks in Tianjin, China, has said that Washington will not sign any binding deal that does not also bind China.

4. Technology transfer
As well as adequate funding, developing countries want access to the patented technologies — from fuel-efficient cooking stoves to low-emission power plants — that are essential for pursuing ‘greener’ growth strategies and adapting to climate change.

But the logistics of such technology transfer remain unresolved. Many developed countries are calling for strong patent laws to protect their intellectual property rights. But some developing countries say such laws could make using new technology, or adapting it to local conditions, prohibitively expensive and difficult.

5. REDD+
Equally controversial are the logistics surrounding REDD+ (schemes that provide developing countries with incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and includes the role of conservation, sustainable forest management and the enhancement of carbon stocks).

The rules for deciding how funding is allocated to forest-related activities remain widely disputed and there are particular concerns over the rights of indigenous people and forest-dependent communities.

6. Post-2012 emission targets
Perhaps the stormiest issue at Cancun will be emissions reduction targets beyond 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol runs out.

For many countries, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is non-negotiable. But parties to the Kyoto Protocol cannot agree on how to set the targets for this. Developed countries, hard hit by the economic crisis, want to set individual targets — tailored to their national situations — that are then combined into a global goal.

But developing countries say that the current total of individually-pledged targets falls far short of what science tells us is required to avoid pushing global temperatures above the 2°C ‘tipping point’. So they want to set an overall global target first and then distribute contributions to that based on a ‘to-be-agreed’ method.

For a fuller briefing on these six ‘stormy’ issues, see Climate watchlist: key issues for Cancun negotiations

This blog post was jointly written by Achala Chandani and Linda Siegele.