Cancun enters second week with doublespeak and bullying
As the Cancun talks move into their second week, rumours of a new secret text based on the Copenhagen Accord appear to have been misinformed (so far anyway). Hopefully the Mexican hosts – having heard the reactions of NGOs and other countries to the rumours of a repeat of Copenhagen – will ensure a transparent and open process throughout the negotiations.
New drafts of the main negotiating texts have now been produced by the official working groups. But the texts remain far from consensual, and a fair and scientifically based agreement still seems a distant hope.
The crux of a fair agreement is a cap on the aggregate emissions of the rich developed countries – whose past emissions are the main cause of the growing climate crisis. An agreement on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol remains the only means to
deliver such a cap.
Even that may not be enough if the loopholes in the Protocol are allowed to remain, or even grow, allowing real action to cut emissions to be reduced in favour of dodgy carbon market offsets, or overestimated carbon sinks in land-use and forestry.
But the alternative to the Protocol is the pledge-based approach of the Copenhagen Accord, and a far lower baseline of emissions reductions than the planet needs. The main obstacle to the continuation of the Kyoto regime has been the refusal of the US and more recently Japan to support a second commitment period if major developing countries do not face binding emissions controls too.
Supporters of the Accord are indulging in modern day double-speak – describing the Accord approach with the wonderful term ‘a balanced agreement’. They are trying to give the impression that the Protocol is unbalanced because it doesn’t include binding commitments on countries like China.
This is completely false. It remains the case that a fair agreement would see the rich world cutting first, and funding additional mitigation in developing countries. But intriguingly China has hinted today that it might accept a binding target, potentially putting the US under pressure to stop blocking the Protocol track, or at least to accept a formal COP (Conference of the Parties) decision moving towards a second commitment period.
But the supporters of the Accord have also upped the ante, with claims that more countries are set to come on board, and that some supporters are poised to increase their commitments. Given the year of internal disagreement in the EU on whether to raise our unilateral commitment, and the US failure to progress domestic climate legislation it seems unlikely that such new pledges might come from either of those quarters. So it’s unclear how significant this can be.
Within the new texts, markets are sadly showing up more and more often. More markets means more big offset loopholes. Markets cannot deliver reliable finance flows for cutting emissions and
supporting adapation in developing countries. They lock in high-carbon economies in rich countries and the excessive materialism and consumption that fuelled climate change in the first place.
Most developing countries are aware of the carbon market con trick but few are openly resisting their expansion here in Cancun. That’s because the rich countries wield tremendous power and financial influence, and as the recent climate Wikileaks showed, they aren’t shy about using it to bully poorer ones. This is the main reason why climate funding should be managed within the UN process, rather than passed to the World Bank – dominated as it is by the same rich countries.
The UN negotiating process, which is transparent and democratic, is also supposed to counterbalance these unequal power dynamics. However, in Cancun, a “green room” process in which negotiators and ministers are selectively invited to provide input is apparently being used.
So Friends of the Earth campaigners are working to support the UN process and hold the presidency and chairs accountable to it.
They are also engaging in technical discussions over NGO participation and access to the negotiations aiming to ensure that NGOs can continue to engage and support the poorer countries which can only field small delegations. The draft resolution in this area includes some very positive language, such as reference to “the need to take into account best practices from other processes within the United Nations system” which is code for learning from the Aarhus convention on public participation.
Of course such a small victory would be no recompense for a poor agreement. But without it, the risks grow that rich country bullying will dominate outcomes here and at future meetings.