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Latest UN climate talks begin in China

04 October 2010
Latest UN climate talks begin in China

The latest round of climate change talks kicked off today in Tianjin, China. The week-long meeting is the fourth session held this year and the last before the UN’s annual climate conference – ‘COP16’ – to be held in Mexico in late November.

This is the first occasion that China has hosted a formal UN climate negotiating session. The meeting is likely to be an important opportunity for China to highlight its domestic low-carbon achievements and also define its leadership in, and commitment to, the UN process.

Negotiators are under considerable pressure to make progress this week.

Despite a relatively positive start to the year, the last meeting in August saw a retrenchment of positions as underlying tensions between countries resurfaced. Competing domestic pressures, particularly in developed countries, have also played their part in lower ambition post-Copenhagen. The failure to pass energy and climate legislation in the US Senate was seen by many observers as particularly damaging to the process.

Few, if any, now believe a new global deal can be reached in Mexico.

Tianjin is therefore seen by some observers as an important test of whether the UNFCCC process is capable of delivering progress of any kind. Although negotiators are getting close to deals on important issues such as deforestation, and to a lesser extent, adaptation, finance and technology, many countries have stated that issues can only be agreed as a ‘package’. This language is reminiscent of world trade talks, where a similar ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ mantra has seen these negotiations drag on for nine years.

Despite this, the Mexican government – host of this year’s climate conference – remains positive about prospects for COP16. While acknowledging that a final deal will not be done in December, it believes that agreement is possible on institutional architecture and a number of concrete measures. The hope is that an incremental approach, which builds confidence and trust through small successes, will ultimately succeed where the single grand deal of Copenhagen failed.

Whether Mexico’s optimism is well founded will depend on what negotiators achieve in Tianjin this week.

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