United Nations climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, are proceeding “well,” and a debate over the future of the Kyoto Protocol treaty can wait two more years, Mexican Environment Minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said.
With a week of negotiations to go, it’s too early to tell what final decisions will emerge, though agreements are within reach on protecting forests, setting up a “green fund” to channel climate aid and formalizing emission-reduction pledges made last year by the biggest polluters, Mexico’s Elvira Quesada said in an interview in the resort city.
“It’s like the 10th minute of a football match,” Elvira Quesada said yesterday. “We’ve just started seeing how the negotiations are beginning to unwrap. What really grabs the attention is the spirit, the attitude, the disposition of all the countries. In general, the whole process is going well.”
Elvira Quesada’s assessment that the atmosphere of the talks is positive was backed up by negotiators from Brazil, Bangladesh and South Korea. Even so, Japan’s rejection of taking new commitments under the Kyoto treaty when current caps expire in 2012 could undermine progress, according to Sergio Serra, Brazilian Ambassador for Climate Change.
“The Japanese position can be serious because it can jeopardize the whole package that we may very well get out of Cancun,” Serra said in an interview in Cancun. “I hope it is positioning and that we can, in the negotiating process, get some flexibility.”
Two Year of Life
Delegates from China and India have said the development could derail the discussions in Mexico. It needn’t be a barrier to progress, Elvira Quesada said.
“The Kyoto Protocol doesn’t need to be changed from here to Dec. 10,” when the current round of talks end, he said. “It still has two years left of life, and we can dedicate ourselves to other areas where the world expects solutions.”
Japanese negotiator Kuni Shimada said in a Nov. 30 interview that the protocol is outdated because it doesn’t set targets for the world’s two biggest emitters, the U.S. and China. The U.S. never ratified the pact, which sets no binding greenhouse-gas emissions goals for developing nations.
Elvira Quesada said an eventual solution could be to maintain the Kyoto treaty, which was devised in 1997, and add an annex or another legal document that brings in the U.S., China and other major emitters.
Emissions pledges made by nations in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord agreed at last year’s summit the Danish capital could be formalized this month in Cancun, Elvira Quesada said. The pledges aren’t included in a formal UN document, because nations including Bolivia, Venezuela and Sudan said they weren’t consulted during the drafting of the pact.
The accord spelled out a “shared vision” setting out a goal of limiting global warming since industrialization in the 18th century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Delegates in Cancun should aim to bring that goal into the official UN process and also build on it, South Korean Ambassador for Climate Change Shin Yeon-Sung said today in an interview.
“The long-term goal is the most important pillar” of an agreement,” said Shin. “I want to add the idea of a paradigm shift as the way to implement the goal. We want a shift in industrial, economic and even social life,” he said, referring to promoting low-carbon industries including smart-grid technology that makes electricity use more efficient.
The emissions pledges included in the Copenhagen Accord aren’t ambitious enough to meet the 2-degree goal, the UN Environment Program said Nov. 23. UNEP Chief Scientist Joseph Alcamo said then that the goals, set by the world’s biggest emitters, including China, the U.S., India and Brazil, could lead to a temperature rise of 2.5 to 5 degrees by 2100.
“We are in favor of a legally binding arrangement, but I don’t think it’s possible at this stage,” Brazil’s Serra said. “It might even be counter-productive if it reflects the current stage of ambition, which is very poor.”
A package on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation -- or REDD in UN jargon, is “ripe” for agreement, though some countries may want progress on other issues, such as technology transfer and funding for adaptation to climate change before they allow it to pass, Serra said.
Delegates in Mexico could also agree to set up a green fund to channel aid to adaptation and emissions-reduction projects in developing nations, Elvira Quesada and Bangladeshi envoy Quamrul Chowdhury said.
Rowing Back Expectations
The Mexican approach of rowing back expectations away from the idea of reaching a single, legally-binding treaty may be working, according to South Korea’s Shin.
“Mexico focused their efforts on recovering from the aftershocks we experience in Copenhagen last year,” Shin said. “They wanted to be realistically ambitious and they have succeeded.”
Mexico’s Elvira Quesada said all countries need to take something from Cancun.
“There needs to be a balanced set of decisions that are useful to every country in the world so that every country in the world can go home and say ‘this is the benefit we reap,’” the minister said. Even so, he warned against holding some areas of the talks hostage to progress in other areas. “The perfect solution is the enemy of the good agreement,” he said.