UN talks inch ahead (again)

12 October 2010

Progress, of a sort, appears to have been made at last week’s UN climate talks which concluded in Tianjin, China on Saturday.

Speaking on the final day of the meeting, UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres said that negotiators had “gotten closer to the structure of a set of decisions at Cancun” by identifying what was doable at the annual climate conference and what should be left for later.

Figueres explained that Parties had discussed and “made progress” on all the core negotiating elements, including a long-term emissions goal, adaptation, mitigation, technology, finance and the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

This relatively upbeat assessment, however, contrasted with a statement from Connie Hedgaard, the EU Climate Commissioner that progress had been “very patchy and much too slow”.

Continuing differences between the US and China explain a lot of this lack of movement.

The US continued to push hard on the connected issues of ‘Monitoring Reporting and Verification’ (MRV) and ‘International Consultation and Analysis’ (ICA). These two issues are a core part of the Copenhagen Accord for the US, and deal with how developing countries account for the voluntary emission cuts they undertake.

China pushed back against the US, arguing that it (the US) was hardly in a position to ask emerging economies to take on more responsibilities. Many developing countries, including China, see attempts to create stringent MRV and ICA rules as a back door route for converting voluntary actions into formal commitments.

Despite such clashes, enough appears to have been done to keep talks moving forward through to Cancun. Many observers, however, have warned that without some concrete deliverables in Mexico, the UN process itself may be in jeopardy – a point picked up by the New York Times last week.

Business is especially concerned by continuing deadlock in vital areas. The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) told negotiators that investors still have no certainty over the continuation of the CDM and Joint Implementation mechanism post-2012. Such a situation does nothing to inspire investor confidence in low-carbon investments.

The Mexican government – host of COP16 – appears to be well aware of the need for substantive but realistic action from Cancun.

Speaking in Tianjin, Mexico’s Foreign Minister noted that the negotiations were an “evolving process”, with Cancun able to provide a “significant contribution”. Such language underlines a more pragmatic approach to the negotiations than existed in the lead up to Copenhagen.

With just over six weeks to go, Mexico is working to ensure that Cancun will deliver the “balanced package” of COP decisions that everyone agrees is needed. Key events in the lead up to Cancun include:

  • an informal meeting to discuss the MRV/ICA issue;
  • a technology meeting co-hosted in New Delhi;
  • and a pre-COP mini-ministerial in the first week of November.

These informal and high-level political meetings provide a final opportunity for Parties to lay the basis for a successful COP. The extent to which they succeed will depend on how countries respond to Mexico’s request for “flexibility and inventiveness in the interest of collective responsibility”. There is much to improve on from Tianjin.

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