Coates in Cancún: Down to the wire

This is Barry Coates of Oxfam NZ’s fifth report from COP16 in Cancún: deadline time…

Last night was very tense here at the climate change talks in Cancun. There is a certain rhythm when the deadline approaches. Some countries refuse to negotiate until they get their own way, playing Russian roulette and pushing the talks to the brink of collapse. This is particularly the case with the US at this summit. Their obstructionist behaviour is getting in the way of progress and putting people’s lives at risk.

I am writing this during heated parallel meetings, one chaired by NZ Climate Change Negotiations Minister, Tim Groser. The prospects of real progress in Cancun are on the edge. Here is the state of play:

The positive and constructive spirit that was evident last week is being put to the test. The real negotiations have finally begun, and parties are working late into the night. So far there has been too much posturing and not enough searching for solutions.

As expected, the issues of mitigation (reducing climate change pollution) and the future of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol are crucial. There is a proposal from the facilitators – UK, Brazil, Indonesia and NZ – which would see the Copenhagen Accord pledges listed in “Information documents” and taken note of in the decision text. This is not a strong enough solution for many developing countries and NGOs. Venezuela and others suggested this would signify a rolling back even from the commitments made under the Copenhagen Accord. Merely “taking note” of the numbers is very weak, and does not entail any legal obligations whatsoever on parties with regard to the pledges. That’s a lowest common denominator approach, and parties must do better. We need progress towards an agreement, not just a noting of what was agreed in the last hours of Copenhagen.

On a range of other issues, the US continues to block progress. They are unconstructively insisting that the issue of concern to them (MRV, or Measurement, Reporting and Verification) is resolved to their satisfaction before they allow anything else to move. They are refusing to agree issues such as the establishment of an adaptation committee, agreement to the proposed technology transfer mechanism and, crucially, the establishment of a global Climate Fund.

Last night in the finance negotiations, developing countries pushed for agreement on a decision that would establish a new Climate Fund, refusing to discuss the modalities of such a fund until this was clear. The US was unprepared to do that without further progress on the issue of MRV.

These blocking tactics in all night negotiating sessions are particularly hard to bear for the smaller delegations of many developing countries – those who have most at stake in a successful deal in Cancun. Their few delegates are expected to work into the morning hours, a workload that is more manageable for the larger delegations from the industrialised countries.

The Climate Fund is essential as an agreement from Cancun. This is a key to unlocking the potential for developing countries to strengthen their action on climate change, as well as to provide funding for countries and communities around the world suffering the harshest impacts. The US must not be allowed to hold the lives of poor and vulnerable people hostage to their political needs.

With one day left to strike a deal which delivers for poor countries already facing worsening droughts, stronger storms and eroding shorelines, it is time for Ministers to lead in our common interests, not to pursue their own political agendas.

8 thoughts on “Coates in Cancún: Down to the wire”

  1. Much as the politics and power struggles of the major economies are of vital interest, we have here in New Zealand a microcosm of the main event. When the majority of the population in NZ realise we have a problem and stop burning and exporting coal (for a start) we can have hope that the rest of the world will independently do something as well. If a green and eco-friendly country like NZ can’t get its act together what hope have we got with the USA and China?

  2. Are we whistling in the wind hoping for any commitment from a government that is elected for a short-term? They will always be looking ahead to the next election rather than commiting towards long-term change.

    1. Yes Carol, sadly the only two entities in society with enduring, multi-generational goals are Corporations and Families. Both are increasingly dysfunctional, but are perhaps the last best hope.

      1. What we have in the western world could more correctly be called “Corporatocracy” rather than “Democracy”.The head of Shell or BP (one of the two) once bet Tony Blair that he had more influence on the British pound than T B. Within a year he had proved his point. Also – on a completely different sphere of human activity – note the influence WB has over the NZ Govt re “Hobbit”.
        I’m not sure that more Corporate involvement in political decision making is a good thing.

  3. So Bryan, why don’t developing countries (and which ones in particular) want MRV? MRV shows that mitigation is being taken seriously and in addition to business as usual. It would require real mitigation action from developing countries. The US position here seems to be similar to that of NZ, Au, Japan and Russia in demanding mitigation behaviours from all countries. Again, your blog is a once over lightly of the real issues and politics.

    1. Anon, I consider Barry Coates’ reports snatched from the midst of his involvement in a busy and demanding conference to have been of a very high order. His final report which has now been published is relevant to your comment.

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