Forward Motion in Cancun?

| Sun Dec. 5, 2010 6:38 PM EST

Observers are cautiously optimistic that countries could move forward on the draft text of a potential agreement at the Cancun summit in the next week. The draft, released on Saturday, includes a number of options for negotiators to consider in detail in the next five days, but there are still some big holes.

The 33-page draft for a new agreement—one that would include the US and China, most notably—comes from the chair of the conference and reflects what working groups pulled together in the first week. In many ways, it hews to the Copenhagen Accord from last year's summit—without mentioning it by name—and expands on the portions of that text. The text proposes that countries agree to "hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and states that countries "should take urgent action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity."

Notably, the draft text also states that there should be a review of the goals between 2013 and 2015, both to determine whether the proposed cuts are adequate, and whether parties should strengthen the temperature goal to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead, based on updated science. It doesn't note, however, that it's already clear that the pledges countries offered last year fall well short of meeting that goal. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, noted earlier this week that anything they do achieve here will still be "pathetically insufficient." "The need is so much more than what we're doing," said Figueres.

In many key areas, the draft offers multiple options for final text—some of which demonstrate how big the gap between what countries would like to see really is. On the question of reducing emissions, it includes two options for what countries will put forward: "targets" or "commitments." It's also open-ended as to whether those goals will be formalized, offering options to include them as an "annex to this decision" or simply an "information paper." There are three options for how emission pledges would even be handled that are quite different:

  • Option 1: Developed countries urged to increase the level of ambition
    Launch process, for example through submissions and workshops, to clarify assumptions and conditions in pledges, without prejudice to the final form of the outcome or the relationship to the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Option 2: Developed country Parties will reduce aggregate emissions by a specified percentage.
    For Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the quantified economy-wide emission limitation and reduction commitments will be those adopted under an amended Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol.
    Developed countries that are not Party to the Kyoto Protocol will adopt commitments that are comparable with those of the Kyoto Protocol Parties with respect to the level of effort, legal form, technical aspects, MRV and compliance regime.
    Launch process to negotiate an overall level of ambition for aggregate emission reductions and individual targets, with a view to strengthen commitments and to finalize them as part of a future legally binding agreement.
  • Option 3: Developed countries to implement the listed economy-wide emission targets.

On the question of financing a global climate fund, here are the two options:

  • Option 1: Developed country Parties commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries;
  • Option 2: Developed country Parties and other parties included in Annex II to the Convention commit to provide 1.5% of their GDP per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries;

So while there's some optimism that countries can reach agreement on the text, there are clearly still many decisions negotiators will have to make—and key issues that might not be included. Patricia Espinosa, president of the conference and Secretary for Foreign Affairs for Mexico said Sunday that the text is an "important part of the groundwork for strengthened global climate change action," and "show the world that the multilateral process can deliver as long as a spirit of compromise, cooperation and transparency prevails."

Below the fold I have included some responses to the draft from non-governmental groups observing the process.

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Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director, Natural Resources Defense Council: "It sets the stage for an agreement next week, but only if countries find ways to compromise. Not finding agreement next week would be a failure of leadership and creativity to address this critical challenge. I hope that countries come with a spirit of compromise that they are all talking about. Only time will tell."

Wendel Trio, climate policy director, Greenpeace International: "The Chair’s text distills the most pressing issues the negotiators are facing in Cancun into options for the ministers, but the options represent the most extreme positions held by governments. Now we need ministers to decide on a Third Way—a solution that builds momentum toward sealing a strong climate deal next year. In particular governments need to address how they will increase current emission reduction commitments in order to ensure they help us stay well below 2 degree C temperature rise."

Tim Gore, climate change policy adviser, Oxfam International: "A year after the challenges of Copenhagen, the atmosphere in Cancun is one of cautious optimism. Key questions remain unanswered and ministers have significant challenges ahead but a balanced package that makes progress on critical issues is within reach … Questions remain on issues including how to anchor mitigation targets and settle the future of Kyoto. Rich countries have suggested that progress in those areas could lead to success next week. But achieving a deal on these issues should not overwhelm the efforts to make substantive progress on essential priorities including finance and a fair global climate fund. Success in Cancun requires more than a quelling of political tensions and must ensure that decisions are taken that deliver concrete results to protect poor, vulnerable people."

Gordon Shepherd, director of the global climate initiative, World Wildlife Fund: "Since we are here ultimately to address the problem of global warming, we welcome the latest negotiating proposal’s call for a review of the adequacy of action to meet the long-term goal to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, while also reviewing whether this goal needs to be strengthened to 1.5 degrees Celsius as demanded by the vulnerable countries. The text states that this review would start in 2013 and be completed by 2015, which is significant since this sets the timeline for the next round of negotiations for new commitments by countries.

"What is missing is a clear and formal recognition that there is a significant gap between current pledges and the goal, and this gap must be closed. We would like to see a process in place immediately that looks at the gap and how to close it. We hope this can be made clearer here in Cancun that the ultimate goal of this review is to strengthen commitments to ensure that we reach our goals to limit warming."