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« Same old snake oil at Cancún climate talks | Main | Agriculture in the climate talks - new paper »

December 02, 2010

Will the UN repeat Copenhagen's mistakes?

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

It’s the fourth day of the climate talks in Cancún and the atmosphere in the corridors is hushed. There are six bodies meeting over a two-week period here and already many of the meetings in the daily program are being limited to “parties and observer states.” This leaves most of the civil society organizations—who have travelled long distances to be here—essentially out of the negotiations. This is in contrast to other U.N. negotiations that are supposed to be open and transparent with observer organizations having opportunities to intervene and engage.

Information about what is happening in the key areas of the negotiations is not filtering out adequately. And those of us gathered here are having to resort to personal contacts in government delegations to find out what is going on. At the outset of the meeting, many government delegations also stressed that the number of simultaneous meetings had to be limited because it prevents smaller delegations from being able to participate adequately.

We already see a mushrooming of the number of meetings in the form of contact groups, informal consultations, “spinoff” groups and drafting groups taking place. This is in addition to the numerous side events that are taking place in the official NGO space several kilometers away from the negotiating halls in the Moon Palace, as well as other events outside of the officially accredited spaces. Individuals are having to shuffle from point A to B in shuttle buses as any other form of transport is unavailable along the security strip.

Those who were present in COP 15 in Copenhagen last year say that it is starting to feel as if Cancún will be a repeat of Copenhagen where more and more meetings become restricted to governments only and civil society is shut out from participating in an issue that affects all of humanity. Civil society organizations, for instance, can only meet amongst themselves in the Cancún Messe which is several kilometers away from where the actual negotiations are taking place. We are not even allowed to book meeting rooms to discuss and share information about the talks in the Moon Palace where the drama will unfold in the coming days. And because there has been so much trouble with internet facilities in the negotiating spaces, communicating by email has also proved difficult.

Moreover, though the Mexican government said that it will not repeat Copenhagen by having a select group of heads of states come to Cancún to patch together a backroom deal—it now appears that around 40 governments are being invited for the high-level segment of the talks which begin next week. There is a concern that the elements of Copenhagen’s last-minute deal called the “Copenhagen Accord,” which was instigated by President Obama and created huge fissures in the prospects of a global deal, might be pushed again in Cancún.

Civil society groups, including IATP, have raised several concerns regarding the trajectory of the talks in an open letter to the Mexican Government serving as the president of the UNFCCC conference of the parties in Cancún. The groups state, “The [Cophenhagen] Accord, produced by an exclusive group of 28 countries selected by the Danish Government, and tabled on a 'take-it-or-leave-it' basis in the final hours of the conference, is illegitimate and, even according to the U.N. climate secretariat, has no status. Scientists have confirmed that its pledges could lead to upwards of 4 degrees of warming leading to catastrophic impacts on the world's people and ecosystems and irreversible climactic change.”

Already, Japan has made strong statements wanting to end the Kyoto Protocol—a legally binding protocol under the UNFCCC, which was agreed in Japan itself. Its end would mean the end to the only legally binding treaty that obliges industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. If the industrialized world wants all countries to take responsibility for urgently reducing and halting the threat of climate change, they will have to take the lead in doing it back home. And doing it now. We will see how the drama unfolds in the coming days.

Ben Lilliston

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