Much At Stake In Cancún

Reporter / by Joanna Dafoe /

As UN climate meetings started this week in Cancún, the deficit of trust between developing and developed countries is stunningly apparent. Overcoming this hurdle will be critical to COP-16 success—with political consequences that reach through the decade.

Credit: Flickr user UN Climate Talks

Negotiators are gearing up for their third day of meetings at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancún, Mexico.  An anticipated 15,000 country delegates and civil society observers are registered for the conference, scheduled to last until December 10th. 

The ultimate goal for negotiations is to develop a climate treaty to enhance previous efforts under the Kyoto Protocol.  The much-anticipated Copenhagen meetings last December did not deliver the desired results of a legally binding treaty. This year, negotiators aim to move beyond last year’s quasi-agreement the Copenhagen Accord, and make progress toward a fair, ambitious, and legally binding climate deal.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) includes a constellation of issues unfolding under the general umbrella of climate meetings; these issues range from low-carbon technology transfer agreements to finance to emissions reductions targets. 

A big component to success in Cancún relies on finance and the possible establishment of a Climate Fund. Developing countries must consider any finance body to be fair and transparent—a lynchpin issue for cooperation within the UNFCCC. But a November report by the UN Secretary-General’s advisory group on climate change urged for the inclusion of major multilateral development banks, like the World Bank, into the negotiating process. 

For many developing countries and environmental groups, this outcome embodies the worst turn the UN can take. As an institution known to lack transparent and democratic standards, a World Bank presence in the climate meetings will undermine trust and dismantle cooperation.  A UN-monitored Climate Fund can be agreed upon in Cancún to ensure inclusive governance.

The outcome on finance is especially significant because it will shape the trust dynamic between polluting industrialized states and those countries that seek development in a carbon constrained world (for more on this dynamic check out the work put out by the folks at Eco-Equity).  The current trust dynamic, to be frank, is on the rocks at COP-16. Without a strong surge of financial support from industrialized countries that have done the most to contribute to climate change, the negotiating fault lines between rich and poor nations will widen.

The extent to which countries build trust and goodwill during the Cancún meetings will determine the success of a future climate deal. Fred Heutte of Sierra Club US describes how the decisions made these next days will have great consequence for the UN process. “Though it is hard to see amidst all the complicated and slow-moving parts of the UNFCCC negotiations, we are actually in a rather remarkable moment.”  Many decisions will be made on issues of forestry, finance, technology, and adaption before next week. According to Heutte, it is essential that the institutions established to manage these issues are not only effective, but transparent and fair. “Once the basic elements of new institutions are “baked in,” he says, “it will be very hard to change them structurally.  The decisions made in Cancún will have effects for decades.”

While negotiators are working toward tangible and technical decisions in Cancún, they are also working to build a sense of basic trust.  An equitable climate framework is as much a pragmatic necessity as it is a moral one; without the requisite trust, current climate efforts will fail into the last atmospheric profit grab.

Joanna Dafoe is the Canadian tracker with She has been active in the UN climate process since 2005 and writes extensively on climate politics.


Originally published December 2, 2010

Tags climate economics politics

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