Tensions Rise in Cancún

Reporter / by Joanna Dafoe /

Tensions rise into the second week of the UN climate meetings as the draft negotiating text receives mixed reviews. As the time to narrow down proposals dwindles, negotiators perform under heightened pressure to strike a deal.

Credit: Flickr user UN Climate Talks

Tensions rise into the second week of the UN climate change meetings in Cancún.  The draft text for the two negotiating tracks, Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and the Kyoto Protocol (KP), were released this weekend with mixed reviews by delegations.

The LCA track is intended to determine a framework of action on climate change beyond 2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires. The draft text (which you can read for yourself here) contains elements for a package agreement including: reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries (REDD), finance, capacity building, nationally appropriate mitigation strategies for developing countries, and more.

My preliminary look at the LCA text shows what happens when you build negotiations on the goal of a “balanced package” – a term that is sufficiently vague to accommodate different and competing goals. For instance, pages 16 and 17 outline options for a global climate fund.  One bracketed option calls for an open bid procedure to find a trustee of the fund, while another option calls for default World Bank trusteeship. By mid-week, these binary options bracketed in the text must somehow be reconciled.

Another significant development in this negotiating text is the removal of wording that anchors negotiations around a 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold.  Previous versions of the text included the scientifically sound goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degree C˚ and bringing greenhouse gas emissions concentrations below 350 parts per million.  The majority of negotiating states hold an official position of a 1.5 degrees target, but this target has disappeared from the current draft text.

The differences in opinion toward the draft LCA text were made clear this past weekend. The European Union praised it as a good starting point for the rest of negotiations, while Bolivia charged the draft outcome as unbalanced and neglectful of indigenous peoples rights. High-level ministers arrive in Cancún early this week, radically limiting time for substantive negotiation.

An important announcement by Japan, meanwhile, has upended the conference dynamic with regards to the Kyoto Protocol track. Last week, the Japan delegation surprised the conference when it declared itself autonomous from any extension of the Kyoto Protocol. While Japan received significant pressure to soften its stance, the wallflower delegations of Russia and Canada silently affirmed this position. Without an extended legal mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the ability to reach a balanced package is at risk. And this, in turn, imperils other negotiating issues in Cancún, such as finance and adaptation agreements.

As the window of time to remove the brackets on proposed text diminishes, negotiators here are performing under higher pressure.  Many delegates who are in this role because of their passion for the climate change issue spend all of their waking hours marred in procedural frustration, which we see expressed through emotional plenary interventions.

The urgency for resolve was captured perfectly by a meeting I had last weekend with the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiania Figueres. Figueres explained the weight she carries on her shoulders as part of a generation that will leave a diminished planet for the future. She went on to say that, in spite of the challenge for collective action, negotiators have “the moral responsibility to make sure we’re doing the absolute best that we can.”

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiania Figueres sits down with the Adopt a Negotiator trackers to discuss progress in Cancún and the moral urgency for action. In tears, Figueres says, “Nothing that we are going to do in Cancún is going to be perfect. Don’t expect perfection.”

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


Originally published December 7, 2010

Tags climate diplomacy politics security

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