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COP16 report: Negotiators bunker down as week two begins

07 December 2010
COP16 report: Negotiators bunker down as week two begins

The final week of negotiations started in Cancun today (Monday), and Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager at The Climate Group, reports back on what progress has been made, and what issues still need to be resolved with only four more negotiating days remaining.

Observers were left with little to observe today as the second and final week of the UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico kicked off. Although negotiators were busy, with some 18 formal meetings scheduled, all of these took place behind closed doors. The meetings covered all aspects of the two-track negotiating process, from new rules under the Kyoto Protocol to adaptation under the Convention. With the high-level ministerial session of the conference due to start tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon, negotiators are under pressure to deliver draft decisions for ministers to discuss and approve.

To help facilitate progress by officials, a number of the ministers who arrived over the weekend have been paired to provide political input on the least advanced and more contentious issues. Australia’s climate minister is working with his Bangladeshi counterpart on climate finance and technology, Indonesia and New Zealand ministers are dealing with mitigation and transparency issues, and Brazil and the UK have responsibility for Kyoto matters. The extent to which progress was (or wasn’t) made today will likely set the scene for developments through the rest of the week.

With little then to follow, the highlight for many observers was a special stakeholder session hosted by President Calderon of Mexico. The Mexican government has been active through the year engaging not only other countries, but also the variety of observer constituencies (ranging from scientists to indigenous groups) that attend UNFCCC meetings.

This deft diplomacy has earned Mexico considerable praise, and has done much to create the generally pragmatic and realistic mood surrounding the negotiations. The stakeholder session was an opportunity for President Calderon to personally reiterate the importance of observers to the process. Encouragingly, Calderon focused his comments particularly on the importance of business in tackling climate change. The President called for greater public and private partnerships, which he said were necessary for developing low-carbon economies.

The President’s positive comments on the role of business come on top of a number of other positive developments for the private sector in Cancun. In the CDM discussions, for example, space has opened up for a proper discussion on the possible inclusion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as an allowed technology under the mechanism. While it's still early days, this is the first time countries have moved beyond fixed ‘yes’ / ‘no’ positions on the issue. According to those familiar with the issue, this development is seen as something of an historic milestone. Movement on other CDM reforms, such as programmatic baselines, have also raised expectations amongst carbon market experts about improved future investment opportunities.

Of course things are not all plain sailing. Some business delegates, for example, have drawn attention to the mandate of the proposed Technology Executive Committee (TEC), which is expected to be established under a new UNFCCC ‘Technology Mechanism’. The issue here is around the authority and power of the TEC. Businesses want to know whether it would act in an advisory role, or in a more interventionist manner. Generally speaking, developed countries favour the former, while developing ones the latter role. Although businesses support the establishment of the mechanism, they want to avoid one which needlessly imposes extra costs and burdens on their operations.

With just 4 days now left, greater clarity on these and other issues should in theory begin to emerge in the coming day or two. Whether or not countries are actually on track for a successful summit outcome remains far from certain, however. In short, Cancun is proving to be a typical COP.

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