Climate negotiations in hot settings

Foto: Anne Karin Sæther

Publish date: December 10, 2010

Written by: Anne Karin Sæther

Translated by: Charles Digges

CANCUN, Mexico – With just one day left of climate negotiations here in Mexico the outcome remains uncertain. Ministers and bureaucrats are sitting and sweating over reams of text proposals, while the world expects them to agree on something that will slow down global warming.

Global warming may not be what you think about most when you freeze your toes and scrape ice off the windshield. Here at the climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, the situation is quite different. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are at a negotiation centre located right on the beach and the sun beats down on their necks when they dash from one meeting to another. Let’s hope the heat makes them extra aware of the enormous challenges they are set to handle.
Bellona´s group consists of seven of the more than 15,000 participants at the climate summit. In addition to all the negotiators from about 200 countries there is an abundance of environmentalists, scientists, business leaders and journalists here. Everyone wants to assist negotiators get a clear view of the solutions – or problems – they are concerned about. Bellona has arranged a series of meetings to discuss various technological climate solutions and show that there are many good opportunities to overcome the climate challenge
The backdrop is extremely serious. Consensus that the planet is warming because of man made emissions of greenhouse gases is overwhelming, and no one can close their eyes to the many warning lights that are flashing. The problem is that there are so many opposing interests to reconcile, and although most people who are here are convinced that something has to be done, there are many who are afraid that it may be very expensive and difficult. Bellona works to convince parties that efforts against climate change are not only good for the climate but also for the wallet. If we do not cut emissions drastically in the coming decades, the costs resulting from extreme weather and other aspects of climate change will be enormous. Moreover, many efforts against climate change are already paying off, such as energy efficiency

bodytextimage_ak_mindre.jpg Photo: Foto: Tone Knudsen

Now two weeks of climate talks is about to end, and progress has been good in many areas. Yet, no one expected that that a new and binding climate deal would emerge out of this meeting. There is also now a tremendous effort underway to destroy the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. Norway is the biggest proponent to continue the agreement after it expires by the end of 2012. The EU is also a Kyoto defender, while Japan, the country where the agreement was forged, has made it clear that they will not commit to Kyoto any longer. As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia also has said no to Kyoto, and Canada has said that their objection to a continued Kyoto agreement with its current members should not come as a surprise to anyone, a continuation of the agreement is therefore a difficult issue. The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and that is one of the agreement’s biggest problems. The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding climate agreement we have, and although not all nations are included, it is important to protect the agreement until we get a new and extended agreement that commits all major emitters to emission reductions.

Interestingly, the climate negotiations can be regarded as an exercise in not doing anything that could save the climate. Simply put, the United States will hold back as until China commits to reductions and likewise China expects the US to move forward on providing finance and deep domestic emission reductions. And if the United States and China don´t step up, then no one else will either. The poorest countries rightfully refer to the historic emissions in the rich countries. Emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India have however started to emit large amounts of CO2 themselves, and must take on responsibilities too. Fortunately, we have seen a softening of the rigid positions, and China and the United States are, after all, in a continued dialogue. There is a willingness to find solutions here – at least in some areas.

During the annual climate summits, it is normal that not much uplifting information comes out until the very last days and hours. Countries position themselves to gain maximum benefit for their domestic interests, and claims and accusations are shared generously. However, there may be a lot going on inside the closed negotiating meetings.

Maybe agreement on some elements can be found, for instance on how to find money for emission reductions activities in poor countries, and maybe other deals can be reached on the preservation of the rainforest and on transfer and deployment of low carbon technologies, such as solar and wind energy. Parties have already agreed on establishing technology centres in developing countries.
The challenge is to find a balance between the various topics that are negotiated. The expression “balanced package” has, during the past year, been a buzzword in the negotiations. Here, it is a matter of give and take. Now it’s interesting to see if countries are prepared to agree on elements instead of getting everything right.  There is always a danger that the best is the enemy of good, but anything close to a perfect agreement is not expected to be found at the Cancun meeting..
The really big question will still be looming: Can the world agree to commit to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to stop global warming? At the Copenhagen summit last year parties agreed on a maximum temperature rise of two degrees Celcius, but the climate pledges that have been put on the table are far from achieving such a goal.
The meeting here in the Cancun heat will not save the climate, but if the world can move towards a new agreement, which hopefully will come at the next climate summit in Durban in South Africa, we are  on the right track. Bellona will continue to influence both the climate negotiations in the UN system and work actively in other arenas to get closer to achieve the major greenhouse gas reductions we badly need.