Climate Change Negotiations in Cancun in retrospection: a progress or regress

Copenhagen was a setback in climate negotiations since it failed to realize a unanimous outcome, despite the urgency that science demands, and also the mandate of the Bali Action Plan (BAP). While the process was criticized for its lack of transparency and not being inclusive, the substance of the outcome, the Copenhagen Accord, was only 'noted' and not adopted by the Parties. The outcome, thereby, lead to mistrust amongst Parties and other stakeholders. The Copenhagen Accord, for its legal status or the lack of it, did not hold any good but could provide useful inputs as it was representative of the political will. A great challenge for Cancun, therefore, was to restore faith in the multilateral process and to forge an agreement that operationalizes elements of the Copenhagen Accord in conjunction with the two parallel tracks (Adhoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) and the Adhoc Working Group on Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP)) under the BAP. It was also an opportunity to correct the imperfections of the Accord by further elaborating on many of its elements. Another and most important challenge was to restore lost faith in multilateral process.

Both the process and the substance were, therefore, important for a successful outcome at Cancun. This entails that while the process achieves a delicate balance between transparency and efficiency, the substance brings clarity over scope and future of climate negotiations. Further any outcome is ideal if it meets the criteria of a) environmental efficacy, that is, success of the outcome to achieve the ultimate objective of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) which is to is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner ; b) equity, that is, equitable sharing of burden and efforts of Parties in accordance with the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities ; and c) national interests, that is, fully taking into account economic and social development and poverty eradication as the first and overriding priorities .Outcome at Cancun was nothing less than complex both in terms of the process and the substance.
In terms of the process, while the negotiations leading to the 'Cancun Agreements' took place under the AWG-LCA 13 and AWG-KP 15, the Mexico government also facilitated number of consultations and parallel processes, such as the Cartagena Dialogue, throughout the year to enable constructive progress in negotiations. At Cancun, while number of sub groups (read contact groups) were formed under the AWGs from the very beginning of the talks, informal consultations, facilitated by pairs of ministers from both developed and developing country Parties, took place in the later half to progress on issues including shared vision, adaptation, mitigation, finance and technology transfer amongst others. The progress in these consultations was reported in informal stocktaking plenary convened by COP President and later presented as 'draft texts' reflecting Parties' work under the AWGs. The draft was received well by all but one Party, with some level of compromise by majority of Parties on account of being able to achieve progress. Bolivia was the only Party to oppose it, stating that the text does not reflect converging opinions. The COP presidency, however, gaveled down Bolivia, to reach the substantive outcome, the so-called 'Cancun Agreements'. The outcome has since been hailed for having restored faith in the multilateral process after the setback in Copenhagen.

This has, at the same time, also opened new debates, such as 'what does consensus based decision making entail', 'how different (read convenient) are the decision making rules based on: general agreement, voting and consensus', 'does a consensus based decision making rule provide veto power to each Party'. It needs to be noted that the COP has never been able to adopt a decision in its rules of procedure in this regard. However, there exists a need to rethink the basis of decision making in the rules of procedure before a similar issue arises again in future.

In terms of substance of the outcome, the 'Cancun Agreements' builds upon the Copenhagen Accord and the other track to cover the main elements of the BAP, namely: a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology, and capacity building. The agreement captures the progress, though incremental, in a framework comprising of new institutions and their work plan as basis of future negotiations which, at best, highlights the spirit of compromise in the negotiations at Cancun. The following section analyses the progress on elements of BAP in Cancun Agreements in light of the three criteria (environmental efficacy, equity and national interests) and put forth certain issues to be considered in the future.
A Shared vision for long-term cooperative action: All Parties recognized the need of deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2oC and also recognized the need to consider strengthening this long-term global goal on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge, including in relation to a global average temperature rise of 1.5oC in its first review, to begin in 2013 and conclude by 2015. In this context, it only recognized the need of deep cuts (and not the specific cuts) and further agreed to only work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050 to be considered in next COP in Durban in 2011. Similarly, agreed to only work towards identifying a timeframe for global peaking of emissions based on the best available scientific knowledge and 'equitable access to sustainable development' by Durban. The progress, therefore, was nothing but incremental which failed to resolve on crucial elements of the shared vision probably for the lack of clarity on the nature of outcome.

An agreement would have scored high on environmental efficacy, if the nature, level and scope of deep-cuts were known, whereas, the Cancun Agreement has only postponed the decision to Durban. The agreement further adds ambiguity to the basis of equity, by qualifying it as 'equitable access to sustainable development', something which could neither be defined nor be measured. Instead, a win-win reference could have been equitable access to 'global atmospheric space'. The shared vision further recognizes that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries, as their social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities but qualifies it further that a 'low-carbon development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development', which could be seen as an important regress in position as far as our National interests are concerned.

Mitigation: Mitigation with respect to developed countries and developing countries as elaborated in the Cancun Agreements may result in significant changes in the international climate regime. For it is the first time, that even developing countries are obliged to undertake emission reduction, targets and actions pledged under the Copenhagen Accord. The Agreement hence anchors these pledges (since the INF document does not exist yet, this is an operational assumption) in the formal FCCC process. According to few studies, these pledges are inadequate in terms of environmental efficacy as even if implemented effectively will set the world on a 3-4o C path. It is much evident therefore that the bottom up pledges, that replace science based top down approach, are inadequate to achieve the stated global target of limiting to 2o C. On equity, there has been a major compromise by the developing world as while the developed country Parties' have managed to escape, through their voluntary pledges, the legally binding commitments under the second commitment of Kyoto Protocol for now, they have also succeeded in introducing some form of obligation on the developing country Parties. This entails blurring of the principle of CBDR that called for developed country Parties to take the lead. Further, this raises questions on the future of Kyoto Protocol and its second commitment period and may be perceived as a step backward by postponing a decision on a second commitment period indefinitely through a new regime which is flexible and voluntary. Domestically, it is still not clear of the extent of these pledges since India's pledge under the Copenhagen Accord had caveats associated with it. Further, the level and scope of these pledges will decide the required resources and regulations for effective implementation of these pledges. Important here is to also understand spillover effects on the developmental goals of India and work out if the agreement was truly in our National interest!

Adaptation: The Cancun Agreements establishes the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which is set of institutional arrangements to enhance adaptation efforts by all Parties. It also establishes a work program to consider 'approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change'. The key elements, however, will only be clear through the next year's work plan and its outcome.

Technology: The Cancun Agreements set up a technology mechanism comprising of Technology Executive Committee, Climate Technology Centre and Climate Technology Network with a broad mandate including research and design, deployment and diffusion, development of national system of innovation and technology action plans amongst others. However, the Cancun Agreement does mention the issue of intellectual property rights (IPR), which has been one of the crucial issues in the negotiations so far. This certainly has a bearing on our National interests as the issue has considerable influence over access to and cost of technology that will be required for the transition necessitated by the new regime (read obligations). In effect, this would have implications of the efficacy of the developing country pledges in general. Besides, there are other issues that need to be addressed such as the linkage between the technology mechanism and finance mechanism, the relationship between the technology executive committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network etc. A program of work has been established further these discussions and resolve them by 2011. This issue was taken up during ministerial discussions where draft decision text was finalized.

Finance: The Cancun Agreement, formally, establishes the Green Climate Change fund as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the FCCC with a committee set up to design various aspects of the fund and the World Bank as interim trustee. The agreement also incorporates the finance goals set in the Copenhagen Accord that is 30 billion USD as fast-start finance for 2010-12 and to mobilize 100 billion USD by 2020. While these goals in itself seem inadequate, given the global estimates of costs, the additional qualification 'in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation' may reduce it even further. This has resulted in further obligation on the developing country Parties on account of MRV (measure, report, verify) and ICA (International consultation and analysis). However, there was no decision on the sources of the fund which has been an impasse in negotiations.

Challenges and way forward: It is much evident that the Cancun Agreement is not the end as much has to be achieved in the coming year. But it was important to be able to restore faith in multilateral process and was an epitome of compromises where in nations readily accepted any incremental progress falling way short of their initial demands. However, it is important to reinstate that in doing so Parties must not renegotiate on the agreed principles and provisions of FCCC but built on that. Further, International community must also restore credibility of science in Durban by some form of agreement on future commitment and the Kyoto Protocol.

Tags: climate change negotiations, climate change, cancun agreement