We are now one week into the Cancun climate talks. Yes, progress comes at a glacial pace--sometimes it feels like it doesn’t come at all--and the signals here are mixed on just what will happen when the traveling carnival known as the COP comes to a close.
On Saturday, the Chair released her draft text of one of the two main tracks of the negotiations - the Long-term Cooperative Agreement, that deals with the developing countries and industrialized countries outside of the Kyoto Protocol – like the US.
The new text distills the most pressing issues the negotiators are facing in Cancun into options for the ministers, who arrive today. Our review shows that the options represent the most extreme positions held by governments. Now we need ministers to decide on a Third Way - a solution that builds momentum toward sealing a strong climate deal next year in South Africa.
There are several issues that remain in doubt. The emissions reductions commitments on the table are still insufficient to the problem. This is known as the Gigatonne Gap, and it must be closed. To get there, developed countries need first to admit they have a problem – at the very least they must set up a process to address the gap between their rhetoric over their concern over climate change and their willingness to commit to cutting their pollution.
Also in flux is the fate of a mechanism to save tropical forests, known as REDD. The REDD text, as it stands, leaves the door open for risky, small-scale offset projects that could threaten forests and our climate. These projects could slice and dice forests and sell them off to polluters who use them as an excuse to continue business as usual. Now that the ministers have arrived they must re-insert the safeguards and principles that ensure REDD is effective, rather than selling tropical forests off to the highest bidder.
Other issues that hang in the balance are financial support for developing countries to adapt to a changing climate, how soon money will be available to start mitigation action for poorer countries, keeping dirty energy out of any deal, and closing loopholes that allow countries to exaggerate their emissions reduction.
Week two will see power plays, new alliances, and some serious dodging of commitments. But one things is clear: This is not Copenhagen. The feeling here is one of hopeful optimism and the COP’s Mexican hosts are stressing transparency. Expectations may be lowered, but the urgency remains. The only way to solve the global problem of climate change is a global deal that ensures strong cooperative, strong action. The politics may be hard to overcome, but without an agreement through this process, the future of the planet remains in peril.
Daniel Kessler is part of the Communications team currently following the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.