No Time to Lose

Dearest delegates, we gather you’ve been working hard behind those mostly closed doors. But let’s face it, following the failure of Copenhagen to deliver a fair, ambitious and binding agreement, the refusal all this year to set aside differences and focus on areas of convergence may yet scupper the UNFCCC talks. At Cancun, you will bear a heavy responsibility.
If one were to believe the international media, the story of Tianjin has been a high stakes standoff between the US and China, ‘I won’t do till you do’ stalling, and negotiating paralysis. So let’s unpack that a bit.
On the one side there is the United States, the emissions superpower that so far has not submitted itself to internationally binding carbon reduction commitments, and really has to do far more than a measly 4% reduction target on 1990 levels. A commitment on long-term finance would suit the Americans much better than a tone of righteous indignation. And though it pains us to say it, as in Bali, the US should step aside if it is not able to make real commitments, and let the world conclude an ambitious deal.
On the other side, China has been working hard at home to implement a commendable low carbon vision. China could propel the negotiations forward by agreeing to international consultation and analysis of its low carbon actions.
There are, however, more than two countries in the world and every country has something to offer in the negotiations. Whilst things have not gone smoothly this week, we gather that Parties made some incremental progress. However, incremental progress does not cut it with the planet, nor will it be sufficient at Cancun.
Creating momentum requires commitment. At Cancun we need to refuel and take aim at the most ambitious level of agreement possible across all elements. Crucially, we need to map out the next important step of our journey to a fair, ambitious and binding deal in South Africa. A failure to plan our route – with a timeline, workplans and format for negotiations – will have us meandering along the dirt tracks as if we had all the time in the world, whilst climate destruction takes the fast road.
A positive development at this meeting is that negotiators have begun to grapple with the package for Cancun. The fact that a vast majority of Parties are seeking a legally binding outcome in the LCA track is self-evident.
But we are also pleased that so many Parties have expressed willingness to recommit to the Kyoto Protocol with a second commitment period. That must be crystal clear in the Cancun package.
It is essential that the stand-off in the legal matters group ends, otherwise there may be unintended consequences to the future of the Kyoto Protocol.
Parties gave assurance in Bali that there would be no gap between commitment periods. But that’s not what is happening, and carbon markets, already soft since Copenhagen, will likely weaken further.
Here are essential elements of the package to contemplate between Tianjin and Cancun:
FINANCE
Discussions on finance have focused on the establishment of a new fund under the Convention. The COP should also establish an oversight body to perform crucial functions such as ensuring coherence of the financial mechanism, coordination, and assuring a balance of funding.
We know that some countries have been working hard to bridge the divisions on these issues. At Cancun we expect that Parties will establish a Fund with democratic governance, providing direct access for developing countries, and functioning under the guidance and authority of the COP.
TECHNOLOGY
Technology often tops the lists of potential outcomes in Cancun, yet the details have remained elusive in Tianjin. The key question is the institutional arrangements of a multilateral mechanism, with the aim to scale up and speed up the use of climate friendly technologies. Here again, governance should be placed under the authority of an entity whose mission is focused on limiting warming to 1.5o C.
MITIGATION
Mitigation clearly is a most essential element of the package. Despite this, negotiators chose to dive into contention rather than seeking convergence. A focus on developed country pledges, the NAMA mechanism, as well as NAMA design, preparation and implementation took form only on Thursday.
In preparation for Cancun, Parties should replace their ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse with a willingness to agree rules that will ensure the environmental integrity of their emissions reductions.
Before Cancun, we recommend catching up on the science. Preventing dangerous climate change clearly requires more substantial emissions reductions. A balanced Cancun package will require Annex I parties to show how they are going to meet their moral obligations and to act in line with the science. We recommend acknowledging the gigatonne gap between current pledges and science based targets, and agreeing a route to South Africa that addresses ways to close the gap.
CAPACITY BUILDING
Everybody appears to agree that capacity building is both vital to success and key to movement in Cancun. The principles were well-established as early as COP 7, and developing countries (particularly LDCs, SIDs and Africa) have been clamouring for years for a dedicated capacity building framework with real resources and a genuine desire to succeed. And yet still nothing happens. How long will it take at this rate?
LULUCF
The logging industry must be thrilled at how forest negotiators mangled the
LULUCF accounting rules this week. The proposal forwarded to Cancun undermines the environmental integrity of Kyoto by hiding increases in emissions and awarding false credits to loggers.
Because so much time was spent on devising these accounting tricks, minimal
attention got paid to emissions from land-use change beyond forests – another potential loophole. The only proposal for managing forests that has any environmental integrity was given short shrift.
Furthermore, the damage this proposed decision can do to REDD accounting is not to be underestimated. To prevent another Marrakesh, the damaging impact of forest accounting on the targets will have to be addressed in the broader KP numbers discussion.
REDD
From time to time this week, the curtain has lifted on the Dante-esque world of the REDD+ Partnership. We have been mesmerised by the heroic, if misguided, struggle between the co-chairs and the rest of the world. However, we are also saddened that what could be a valuable institution has become a farce. We can only hope that things will get better.
ADAPTATION
A focused atmosphere prevailed in the adaptation talks, which are progressing on content and may eventually deliver a compromise agreement. ECO reminds parties that the adaptation framework must include operational elements and result in action on the ground.
To move forward, Cancun must clarify the functions of the adaptation committee, enable a tangible solution on loss and damage, finally put response measures back in its box, and search for balance between adaptation and mitigation funding, including a pre-allocation scheme.
 

Related Newsletter :