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Yes we Cancún

25 November 2010
Yes we Cancún

By Steve Howard, CEO, The Climate Group.

Op-ed, Europe's The Parliament Magazine.

We can learn much from the practical leadership on climate change being shown at local levels, writes Steve Howard

National governments will need to make concrete progress in Cancún or risk undermining faith in the UN negotiating process. However, a clean revolution, driven by business and sub-national governments, shows what can be achieved with the right leadership.

In many ways this year’s UN climate conference in Cancún, Mexico, may prove more important than its much hyped, and ultimately disappointing, predecessor in Copenhagen. While COP15 carried the burden of producing a new global climate deal, Cancún’s success or failure could well determine, for better or for worse, the long-term relevance of the world’s premier climate forum.

After a further 12 months of difficult negotiation and limited progress, questions about whether the UN climate talks are capable of sealing a deal are on the increase. The irony is that this has occurred at the same time as all the world’s major emitters have made unprecedented mitigation pledges under the Copenhagen accord. A repeat of Copenhagen, or an outcome which lacked substance, could well undermine these pledges and see many countries lose faith in the process. Such a result would be both a tragedy and an abdication of responsibility, particularly by the major emitters.

But Cancún doesn’t need to deliver the final deal to be a success. Progress is there to be had on a number of important issues. Even success in one of these individual areas would do much to restore confidence. The issue of deforestation and forest degradation is a case in point. After years of debate, countries are close to agreeing a consensus on a mechanism to protect forests in developing countries, which alone account for about 15 per cent of global emissions. Some €3.3bn has also been put on the table by rich nations to support such action.

Negotiations on arrangements for a new mechanism for developing and transferring technology have also been advanced. Agreement on the establishment of a new, transformative green fund is within reach. And further announcements about early flows of the €22.2bn in so-called fast-start finance, would help rebuild trust between developed and developing countries. To get to this point, however, we will require countries to move away from the ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ mantra that has permeated the talks. Such a negotiating tactic is a recipe for a multilateral stalemate. Businesses looking for policy certainty and communities looking for real climate action deserve better.

The good news is that if ministers and their officials need inspiration to break through negotiating deadlocks, they need only look to many of their own businesses and sub-national governments. While UN talks have been locked in often ideological battles, a quiet, but growing, clean revolution has been taking place amongst these pragmatic, low-carbon pioneers.

Driven by smart business thinking, job creation opportunities, and energy security concerns, companies and many sub-national governments have already been investing in and building a low-carbon future. Wales, for example, has established annual greenhouse gas reduction targets of three per cent per year, to deliver a reduction target of 40 per cent by 2020. Bavaria meanwhile aims to have 200,000 electric vehicles driving on its roads by 2020, or 20 per cent of the electric vehicles registered in Germany.

This bottom-up, practical leadership indicates that despite deadlock at the international level, there are already many climate leaders taking action in government and business. If national governments can replicate this enthusiasm in Cancún, then COP16 will do much to rescue the reputation of a vital international process whose success is in the interest of us all.

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