Coates in Cancun: tequila time on hold


Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates with climate activists from Japan.

The climate change talks have gotten really busy over the past two days. No midday siesta. No runs along the beach. Definitely no tequila. Only earnest conversations with government officials rushing from meeting to meeting. And lots of confusion.

This is partly because of the complexity of negotiating a huge range of interrelated issues. And these are issues about economics, business and jobs, as well as the climate, polar bears and vulnerable people. The stakes are high.

There are a number of draft documents being discussed in nine parallel sets of negotiations, plus many other informal groupings. Out of all of this is meant to come an agreement acceptable to all 192 countries.

Still unresolved is the fairly fundamental question of what is being negotiated. When the talks started at Bali in 2007, a main aim was to ensure that there would be no gap in the commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol runs out at the end of 2012, but there is a structure in place for a second commitment period to follow.

The US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, so a parallel track was set up to create a way for them to join in the long-term global agreement. The negotiations have since been organised in two tracks: a second period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and a “Long-term Cooperative Agreement”.

But this plan has been undermined by toxic politics in the US, and the election of a slate of climate sceptics to the US Senate. I was passing a press conference room and heard the Brazilian Ambassador to these climate change talks, when asked to comment on the role of the United States in the negotiations, say: “I couldn’t possibly comment on the actions of another country whose positions I disagree with!” Most undiplomatic.

There is now an acceptance that countries may need to move ahead without waiting for the US, again. But this time, the rich nations are balking.

It is ironic that the home country of the Kyoto Protocol has put the knife in. It has added to the perception that the rich nations are trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities to reduce emissions…

Japan’s statement on Monday that they would not, under any conditions, agree to a second round of commitments under the Kyoto protocol earned them the Fossil of the Day award (a special prize given by civil society groups to the country that does the most to block progress on climate change). It is ironic that the home country of the Kyoto Protocol has put the knife in. It has added to the perception that the rich nations (called Annex 1 countries) are trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities to reduce emissions and failing to recognise that they need to move first and furthest on climate change (since they were the countries that did the most to cause the problem).

The following “Lonely Hearts” ad appeared in today’s daily news bulletin, ECO:

Annex 1 country seeking no-strings attached treaty for good times in Mexico. Currently trying to find a way out of a 13-year relationship with lots of commitment and compliance. Likes: excellent food, movies, comic books, robots and big industry. If interested please send a name and photo to –

But this is by no means the death knell of the Kyoto Protocol. Japan has made it clear they are prepared to make future emissions cuts. But not within the current form of this agreement. So the search is on for the solution – an answer to the question of what will be agreed in these negotiations. I’ll write more about this over the next ten days.

In the meantime, the approach is to fill in the parts of the jigsaw that are ready, and particularly to set up the framework for climate funding, so that developing countries have the resources to help protect their communities and reduce their own emissions.

There has been progress in the past few days and it looks like a “fair climate fund” may possibly be agreed here in Cancun. This would be a big step forward from the stranglehold that donor countries have exercised over funding, either through their aid programmes or through institutions such as the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility. The result has been a spaghetti bowl of different funds that have forced developing countries to jump through unacceptable hoops – in one case, a proposal took four years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. There is a better way, a more efficient way and a more accountable way.

At stake is how to get assistance to poor and vulnerable communities around the world that are suffering floods, droughts, heat waves and more frequent and/or intense storms. Their ability to grow food is under threat, as is their access to clean water. Millions of people are affected. This is worth fighting for and it is a major reason why I’m here in Cancun. These negotiations are not going to be easy, but there are definitely important agreements that can be achieved. Maybe there will be cause for having that tequila after all.

6 thoughts on “Coates in Cancun: tequila time on hold”

  1. I find the comments about Japan’s reluctance to be intriguing. Is their position a possible attempt to help induce the U.S. to joining the next International Treaty?

    1. You mean: I’ll pick the hot cinders from the fire this time, soon you will pay me back with some other deal? Now that would be disgusting…

      Japan would need to be very sure that the US will accept an alternative deal, otherwise it’s just a step back.

  2. From the various news reports it seems that most rich countries want a deal where they don’t have to reduce carbon emissions and the poor nations are trying to get aid for development. It would be better if they stayed at home, recognised the problem and did something about it. Even the countries that did sign the Kyoto agreement just went ahead and increased emissions.

  3. I am resigned to the idea that the only real way forward might be for nations to individually set ambitious targets for transforming their energy industries towards clean green technologies with all technologies on the table which do not require digging up carbon and the to pursue a fast track action plan to implement these, combined with trade tariffs on countries that do not pull their weight.

    There is a lot to invent still in clean technology and those first of the blocks will be able to benefit greatly from their innovations.

    Cap and trade might work in theory, in practice it seems that nobody actually wants to implement such a system at home in a way that actually has some bite. Instead a forest of exemptions grows as in any tax system anywhere, diluting and in the end invalidating the entire plan.

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