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« Animals and our obesogenic environment | Main | Same old snake oil at Cancún climate talks »

December 01, 2010

Cancún suprises logistical and political

IATP's Steve Suppan is blogging from Cancún, Mexico where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is being negotiated.

After the disastrous logistical organization of U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, we prepared well to avoid similar surprises in getting to Cancún, Mexico. Nevertheless, the $40 airport taxi announced on the conference website would have been $70, if we had taken the taxi. And who knew that a five mile trip from the hotel to the conference center would take up to two hours due to security arrangements for Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who came to the Moon Palace to give an inaugural address to delegates? And there were pleasant surprises too: the hotel food, the sunset that widely surpassed the picture on the hotel website.

IATP set up its literature booth with the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). Then we walked about to see what was in the booths of over 200 hundred organizations in the Cancún Messe, the mammoth site of myriad side events organized by governments, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations. There are not a lot of bulletins that cover the negotiations themselves, but the Third World Network's bulletins are always worth reading. The TWN Cancún News Update for November 29 reported a big surprise for most of the government delegates.

Chair of the Long-term Cooperation Agreement (LCA), Ms. Margaret Mukahanana Sangarwe of Zimbabwe, posted on the UNFCCC website on November 24 a draft decision text that reflected the views of developed countries, but not the LCA-negotiated text that had been agreed on August 13 in Tianjin, China. For example, the posted text dropped the developing-country proposal for an international mechanism to compensate developing countries for the costs of climate change–inflicted damage. Also, developing-country proposals on adapting to climate change, finance and technology transfer were ignored or watered down.

Many delegates were still en route to Cancún for pre-meetings when the Chair posted her personal interpretation of what was needed for a successful outcome to the Cancún meetings. UNFCCC-member governments had not asked for this text and protested vigorously at the opening session that the text might be considered a substitute for the negotiated text. Mukahanana clarified today that her diplomatic note was not a formal text but her interpretation of the “possible elements” that might lead to agreement in Cancún. Still, the damage had been done: the work to overcome the bitterness about the top-down imposition of the Copenhagen Accord had been wasted by a note that reflected the accord and the interests of its proponents.

Then on November 30, Japan surprised delegates by announcing that it would never agree to new commitments to reduce greenhouse gasses under the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, it would join the United States in opting for voluntary pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement that would not be binding on developed-country members but that would oblige developing countries to agree to international oversight of their actions to reduce greenhouse gasses. The Japanese announcement brought sharp rebuke, including from IATP board member Sivan Karthi.

IATP was not entirely surprised to discover that access to negotiating sessions has been even further reduced than what was allowed for last year's negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark. A few table-setting sessions are open to NGO observers but negotiating sessions are not. We are going to learn what we can by talking with delegates outside of the negotiating rooms. And we'll offer advice if asked to do so. We'll go to side events to learn, e.g., about the many technical difficulties in measuring soil carbon and other terrestrial features of climate change.

And we will do some teaching and advocacy at our side event with IFOAM on December 3 and at several other NGO events. We hope to be surprised that the governments will make progress on agreeing on how to reduce greenhouse gases, how to adapt to climate change, how to pay for it, and who will pay for it and when. But it is hard to be optimistic about a good result from the Cancún negotiations for the planet and its people when the only good surprises thus far are logistical ones like the enjoyable meal we had tonight.

Ben Lilliston

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