Modest Climate Deal within Reach in Upbeat Cancún Talks

Ghost of Copenhagen failure being dispelled by an 'atmosphere of honest, transparent and conclusive negotiations'

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CANCUN, MEXICO — United Nations negotiators said late Thursday that a “balanced” package of key components of a future climate pact is within reach in Cancun, sounding an upbeat note in the final hours of the talks, described throughout as “very difficult” by officials.

“We can reach a concrete Cancun outcome,” said Akira Yamada, a Japanese foreign ministry official. “Maybe not on Friday, maybe on Saturday, but we hope we can meet it.”

Other ministers — from both rich and poor nations — echoed his optimism.

“Parties are talking. Parties are negotiating on the most difficult issues. I am very hopeful that we will get to a good outcome,” said Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Brazil’s climate envoy.

“Willingness of countries at this time to reach agreement is huge,” said Claudia Salerno, chief climate negotiator for Venezuela. She described the new cooperative spirit as “very different” from that of Copenhagen last year.

The much-derided Denmark summit produced the controversial Copenhagen Accord in a backroom deal brokered among a dozen or so countries.

Janusz Zaleski, an official in the environment ministry of Poland, which will take over the EU presidency in January, said there is an “atmosphere of honest, transparent and conclusive negotiations” and a “rebuilding of confidence and trust,” which is “creating opportunities for moving forward.”

Some environmental groups similarly acknowledged the shift in mood.

“Ministers can finally lay to rest the ghosts of Copenhagen,” said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International. “We are in a position to move forward on a number of significant issues.”

How Ambitious an Outcome?

While most agree that Cancun has helped to restore trust in the UN climate body, it is still unclear how ambitious and concrete a final outcome will be.

The hope is that if parties can “anchor” emissions-reduction proposals — and if China agrees to consider U.S. demands of tighter oversight of its carbon-cutting efforts — then they might unlock the logjam on a “green fund” for dispersing cash to poor countries struggling with climate change, and finalize decisions on tropical forest protection, technology transfer and adaptation.

Some parts of a deal, especially on technology and forestry, appear to be close to consensus, with some crucial details to be hammered out next year, observers say.

Not everyone is pleased.

On the forestry scheme, in particular, known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, advocates slammed negotiators for stripping language to legally enforce safeguards designed to protect indigenous peoples’ rights and biodiversity.

Rosalind Reeve, forest campaign manager for the London-based Global Witness, said it would be wiser to delay a REDD deal until next year than agree to weakened text hashed out in “an unseemly rush.”

Reeve and others blamed Brazil for the roll back.

Branca Americano, an official in the Brazil environment ministry, said outside monitoring is not necessary. “These safeguards will be followed [and] will be monitored … in a very detailed way.”

Future of the Kyoto Pact

Still tripping up discussions in the final hours is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in 2012.

At the outset of the Cancun talks, Japan angered poor countries when it announced that it will oppose extension of the Kyoto pact. It was the strongest articulation of its position ever made, and it is not budging, despite reported attempts by the UK prime minister to convince Tokyo to soften its stance.

Japan’s delegation repeated on Thursday that the 1997 protocol is “neither a fair or effective way to tackle this climate change challenge” because it covers only 27 percent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases. Russia and Canada share this view.

But most of the developing states are demanding that countries commit to a post-2012 Kyoto regime as part of a Cancun outcome.

Machado, whose nation of Brazil was handpicked with Britain to heal the rift over Kyoto’s future, said it is “a must in the outcome.”

Still, Yamada insisted the issue is “not the blocking obstacle” in the talks.

Hyping Up Durbin

Japan favors a single agreement that covers all large emitters, especially the U.S. and China. The legal architecture of this future pact, however, is not on the table in Cancun, it said.

There is “no consensus or convergence on what is a legally binding agreement,” Yamada said, adding that it is “a little bit premature” for that discussion.

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has repeatedly stated that the issue of Kyoto, and that of a future legal framework, will be decided in Durbin, South Africa, host of next year’s climate meeting — not in Cancun.

Already, participants in the talks have started hyping Durbin.

“Durbin cannot be another stop in an endless journey,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace. “Durbin has to be a destination that we bring to and and deliver a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.”