Day Four

05 December 2010 | Event

As the first week of the Cancun climate talks draws to a close, John Costenbader from IUCN’s Environmental Law Programme, noted a general feeling of disorientation, fragmentation and growing concern about the future of the UNFCCC process.

Hurry up and wait could describe the complicated transportation and split side event-negotiation logistics of the conference as well as the splintered, stagnant negotiations and parallel climate change processes occurring outside the UNFCCC for much of 2010.

With Japan having stated in the clearest terms yet its refusal to remain in Kyoto during a second commitment period earlier this week (much to the ire of most developing countries), the eventual demise of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) already seems to be taken for granted by some delegates.

In another room, negotiations on a post-2012 agreement seem similarly stalled for the most part. Given its increasingly conservative landscape since last month’s mid-term congressional elections, the United States offers no imminent hope of ratifying an agreement under the Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) process.

Like dominoes, we may expect a counter-refusal to join a binding climate agreement from other major emitters such as China and even the European Union. As the LCA track doesn’t seem to hold out much of an immediate alternative, the real question seems to me “if no more Kyoto, then what next?”

Bilateral funding alternatives may substitute formal negotiations to an extent, albeit with their own set of potential benefits and challenges and no clear role for the main emissions mitigation work at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol.

The fragmentation of the two track KP/LCA process is compounded by a vast divide between mitigation and adaptation issues. For those of us working in the biodiversity and natural resource sectors, the two main focuses of attention are on adaptation of these sectors to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+).

Both streams of work have made great progress in recent years but also have become a bit narrowly focused in their technical conversations. By and large I don’t see the two groups bridging their substantive issues, even at an abstract international level.

I have REDD+ friends and I have adaptation friends, and if the groups mix, it’s generally just for beers and perhaps light discussion of common challenges outside their technical substantive areas (e.g. climate finance or the overall negotiation process).

If the difficulties in coordinating work across the separate ‘silos’ of various multilateral environmental agreements can teach us anything, it might be to begin the integration process as early as possible. If nothing else is clear by now, it is that finances and time will be extremely tight to implement the climate projects and programmes desperately needed, and comprehensive strategic planning including adaptation, mitigation and protected areas considerations will be at a premium.

Although those of us following environmental issues in the climate negotiations have long laundry lists of issues we hope to see solved, my main wish is probably just for the UNFCCC process to live through Cancun to fight another day.

Since Copenhagen, there has been some good work accomplished in various bilateral and multilateral processes outside the UNFCCC (e.g. the REDD+ Partnership and Adaptation Partnership).

But these new informal groups have also resulted in a fragmented flurry of quasi-negotiations, which can make it difficult to follow even one major topic in any substantive detail.

This fragmentation can make it all the more difficult for the smallest, least-developed countries lacking adequate capacity and often only a few delegates each per negotiation round to participate substantively in negotiations.

Even if negotiations seem stalled for the foreseeable future, I think it will be vital for climate negotiations to continue to offer a relevant, balanced platform for all parties under the UNFCCC umbrella.