COP 16 (Mexico): How it could succeed

31 March 2010

Following Copenhagen, global divisions on climate change action remain significant and it looks increasingly unlikely that a legally binding treaty will be reached in nine months' time at the next UN Climate Summit in Cancún, Mexico. Many commentators consider a final agreement is more likely to come from COP 17, in South Africa in 2011.

Various factors will determine whether COP 16 could become a step in the right direction:

  • Successful passage of comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the US.
    Without a domestic mandate from Congress, the Obama administration will remain hamstrung in negotiating internationally; without the US, there is no global agreement.
  • Increasing trust between developed and developing countries.
    Proactive implementation of the financial commitments reached in Copenhagen could help deliver this. For example, the fast-start funding agreed must begin to flow by the middle of this year.
  • Re-establishing confidence in the IPCC.
    We will need to re-establish confidence in the IPCC, Following damaging press reports and a rise in doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change, re-establishing confidence in the IPCC will be crucial.
  • Finding Yvo de Boer's successor.
    After Yvo de Boer’s resignation last month the appointment of his successor in the UN’s top climate post is critical. Ehsan Masood (Editor, Research Fortnight) stated “previously big UN roles have gone to diplomats or scientists. This time a high profile politician should be selected to fill the role from 1st July – someone with the ability to bang heads together.” Encouragingly the recruitment process is attracting strong candidates from developing nations, with South Africa, India, Costa Rica and Indonesia vying for the job.
  • Supporting processes will also be important.
    Last year, the US-led Major Economies Forum (MEF) played a role in bridging the divide in some areas, although the function of the MEF this year is not yet clear. There are indications that a first meeting could take place in April of this year.
  • Understanding interests.
    Finally, for a legally binding treaty to be reached, we will need to understand the interests of those in business, government and media who do not want a deal, so that blockages from these groups can be overcome.

In conclusion, a lot remains to be done if COP 16 is to boost international confidence and serve as a stepping stone towards a global deal on climate change in 2011. The UNFCCC’s negotiating sessions in Bonn (April and June), Major Economies Forum (MEF) meetings (April), and G8 and G20 Summits (June) will all be critical in determining the direction and speed of progress.

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