Friday, November 26, 2010

Issues for UNFCC Climate Negotiations in Cancun

Achala Chandani and Linda Siegele have published a briefing paper identifying six key issues on climate change that UNFCCC negotiations in Cancun should sort out: shared vision; adaptation; climate finance; technology transfer; reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation; and post-2012 emissions reduction targets.

We must mitigate and adapt to climate change. On this, the international community is agreed. But exactly how to do that is still up for debate. There were high hopes that last year’s UN climate talks in Copenhagen would deliver a legally binding agreement for action on climate change. But the outcome — the Copenhagen Accord — was instead a political ‘statement of intent’ that fell significantly short of expectations. Now, after a year of interim meetings and several negotiating texts, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are gathering in Cancun, Mexico, to try again. Their success will largely depend on settling disputes — particularly between the developed and developing world — about six key issues: shared vision; adaptation; climate finance; technology transfer; reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation; and post-2012 emissions reduction targets.

There are major disagreements between developed and developing counties on many of the six issues. The authors argue that one of the major challenges will be to strike a balance between funding from developed countries and accountability from developing countries. The trust on multilateral process in reaching climate change goals will hinge on if a balanced deal is reached in Cancun. If so, then a legally binding agreement could be reached in South Africa in 2011, the authors opine.

Six Issues for UNFCCC Cancun Negotiations
Issue Developing countries want... Developed countries want...
Shared vision ...all ‘building blocks’ in the Bali Action Plan included ...a focus on the long-term global goal for emissions reductions
Adaptation compensation for the unavoidable loss and damage caused by climate change ...further study
Climate finance and additional money through public funding sources ...more binding action from developing countries
Technology transfer ...easy and affordable access to patented technologies ...strong patent laws to protect intellectual property rights
Emissions reduction  targets set a global target and then define individual countries’ contributions set national targets that are then aggregated into a global goal

A draft negotiating text on ‘shared vision’ is ready for discussion in Cancun. It takes into account a long-term global goal for emission reductions and five building blocks identified in the Bali Action Plan. A long-term emissions reduction plan is hinged on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’—whereby there is agreement on the common goal of effectively dealing with climate change, but with differing degrees of responsibilities for causing it.  The five building blocks in the Bali Action Plan are mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building. There already is disagreement on some issues of the shared vision between developed and developing countries. Some of the developed countries think that the shared vision should focus mainly on the long-term emission reductions goal, i.e. the numbers.

Regarding adaptation, there are four contentious issues that needs to be resolved in Cancun: defining vulnerability, adaptation finance, emissions mitigation, and compensation.

The Copenhagen Accord includes a ‘collective’ promise of US$10 billion each year until 2012, rising to US$100 billion by 2020. But, there is a large gap between the available funding and estimates of what is needed. Environmentally sound technology transfer is also a key issues and developing countries need it to not only mitigate emissions, but to better adapt to climate change.

Another potential stumbling block is the issue of intellectual property rights. Many developed countries call for strong patent laws in developing nations to ease technology transfer, but some developing countries say that strictly enforced patent rights can lead to high licence costs and obstruct the use and adaptation of technologies for local conditions.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is also contentions because of unresolved issues such as rights of indigenous people and forest-dependent communities, market mechanisms to regulate emissions, and allocation of funding to forest-related activities.

The most contentious issue is about emissions reduction targets post-2012.

Developed countries, hard hit by the economic crisis, want a bottom-up approach where they can set targets that suit their national situation and aggregate them into a global goal. But many developing countries are concerned that this approach is not stringent enough — when individual targets are aggregated, they fall far short of what science says is required to avoid increasing global temperatures above the ‘tipping point’ of 2°C. So the developing world is pushing for a top-down approach that sets a global target, rooted in science, and then distributes contributions to that target based on an agreed methodology.