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FEATURE: Cancun, a small step towards a binding, global deal

The Cancun Agreements, agreed in the early hours of Saturday morning, 11 December 2010, provide a shot in the arm to multilateralism. After a schism in Copenhagen last year when a small group of (influential) nations broke off to sign the Copenhagen Accord – separate from the official UN negotiating tracks – this time, countries have re-connected with the UN process.

Many have argued, with reason, that the progress achieved by the international community is meagre in comparison to the huge threat posed by climate change to humanity. There’s no question that the Cancun talks left a massive tranche of vital business pending for talks in 2011 (leading up to CoP17 in Durban, South Africa next December). The Cancun conference repaired a process that was broken last year, rather than making significant net gains on the road to a post-2012 global deal.

Here’s what was achieved in Cancun:

  • Nations took some steps on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation by creating the REDD+ programme to facilitate the flow of resources to communities dedicated to forest conservation. There was agreement on measures REDD+ countries should take to demonstrate readiness to join such a programme.
  • A basic system for MRV (monitoring, reporting, verification) of baselines and emissions reductions was agreed.
  • Mechanisms were established for technology transfer and assistance to developing countries to adapt to climate change, the latter in the form of a new Climate Adaptation Framework and an Adaptation Committee that will evaluate unavoidable losses suffered by developing countries, and unmet adaptation needs. (An excellent overview of these agreements is provided by WRI)
  • The accords formalise a $30 billion package of fast-start financing from developed to developing countries, from 2010-2012, to aid nations taking immediate actions to halt effects of global warming, as initially agreed in Copenhagen. The Cancun Agreements also formalise the commitment, made in Copenhagen, for financing for long-term projects to protect the environment. This will be delivered through a Green Climate Fund, which will provide $100 million annually for adaptation and mitigation measures. These monetary pledges are not additional to those previously made and resourcing of the Green Fund is only sketched in bare outline.
  • Details of emissions reductions pledged by developed and developing countries, as promised in Copenhagen and its aftermath, were brought into the UN system so they can be assessed. This was an important step. However, these pledges are still far short of the commitment needed to limit average global temperature rise this century to 2C or less. Meanwhile, Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) talks took a step backwards as temperate nations insisted on retention of loopholes that would allow them to count their forested lands as carbon sinks, even while polluting forestry practices continue.

So what do the Cancun Accords mean for the prospect of delivering climate compatible development? The bottom line is that the emissions reductions committed are still insufficient to prevent dangerous levels of climate change. A world in 2100, where average global temperatures have soared 4C above pre-industrial levels, will be one in which human suffering, especially in developing regions, is severe. In such a world, it will be difficult to hold on to gains made in tackling poverty, let alone make further, across-the-board gains.

In the run-up to Cancun, CDKN worked on several fronts to increase developing country capacity to represent their interests at the talks. Our experts briefed the Government of Pakistan in readiness, and assessed the recommendations of the UN High Level Group on Climate Finance for its implications for countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Small Island Developing States. Strengthening of developing country positions at this strategic level is very much part of CDKN’s mandate and aligns with our ‘demand-driven’ approach: responding to developing country requests for support. Indeed, CDKN itself is part of the climate finance story, being an early example of activity funded by fast-start finance (in our case, provided by DfID and the Netherlands Foreign Ministry).

CDKN will continue to work hard to provide developing countries with the high-level strategic support they request to make their voices heard on the international stage, and so influence the global deal anticipated to be struck in late 2012. The Network will also continue to provide assistance at national and sub-national level to countries such as Rwanda to build climate resilience into their development strategies.

In this context of a hugely important but slow-moving international process, countries must keep their shoulders to the wheel to deliver a ‘highest common denominator’, binding outcome, while doing everything they can to gather data, knowledge and experience, and design plans for climate compatible development at home.

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