© Luis Pérez / Greenpeace

COP-16- Day Two

It is day two of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations here in Cancun, Mexico. We’ve just arrived at Moon Palace, the extremely luxurious resort where the negotiations are held this year, after a surprisingly short one-hour journey from downtown Cancun. Yesterday, sessions were delayed as a massive traffic jam kept half of the government delegations stuck on buses for about four hours. The New Zealand Government delegation has had a less than ideal start to the COP (Conference of the Parties), with half its team arriving only last night after being delayed due to the Auckland airport problems.

You may remember the mayhem which was the last COP, in Copenhagen, last year. The world was watching and was left disappointed. No legally binding treaty was formed; fair, ambitious or otherwise. This year, expectations have dropped dramatically. No one you speak to here expects a treaty to be finalised in Cancun. There are too many stalemates to be worked through, too much money to be found, and too many sticky issues left to be resolved.

These lowered expectations are representative of a general lack of faith in the UNFCCC process which has emerged since Copenhagen. The UNFCCC process itself is on trial at COP-16. Even COP Executive Secretary, Christina Figueres, admitted this yesterday in her opening speech. Where COP-15 started with a spirit of optimism and hope, COP-16 began yesterday with a decent amount of scepticism. But there are many who are hopeful that significant progress can be made in the next two weeks towards a global deal in the future.

Critical to the success of COP-16 is progress on climate finance. There is a good chance a global climate finance fund may be established, or at least the rules figured out. But who pays, who is represented in the governance of the fund, and where the money goes are all contentious issues that divide developed and developing countries.

The Mexican President has also emphasised the establishment of the REDD+ scheme as a main goal of Cancun. This is a scheme which aims to incentivise halting deforestation in developing countries. But, whether this scheme is a fund, or, whether it will be a market based mechanism, is yet to be decided on. If it is included in the carbon market, there are serious concerns over developed countries continuing business as usual at home and simply buying offsets from the REDD+ scheme to meet targets. Indigenous communities also have serious concerns over rights to their land being reduced through REDD+.

There are larger, broader obstacles to success here. The recent US election means that the US administration has little power to ratify any commitments made here, and its position here may reflect this. This is a serious concern as the US still holds considerable power to block progress in all areas.

The Kyoto Protocol hangs in the balance. The negotiations around the Kyoto Protocol are concerned with designing the rules around the second commitment period, which starts in 2012. The validity of the Kyoto Protocol, long term is, debatable, but, most people agree that it is the only deal we have at this point, and that we need to strengthen it. It also has the rules and institutions which could contribute to the global deal which may or may not replace it. Japan has announced it wants to ditch the Kyoto protocol altogether, and Canada and Russia seem to be following suit. If they do, it would render the Kyoto Protocol useless as it would only cover around 16 per cent of the world’s emissions.

Tim Grosser, NZ Minister of Trade Negotiations, arrives this week and is facilitating the working group on mitigation. We will be keeping a close eye on our New Zealand Government delegation over the next two weeks, and how it behaves.

However, despite the lowered expectations and attention, COP-16 is forging ahead. Outside, civil society is organising to have a huge presence in the next two weeks. People have travelled far and wide to make their voice heard, and they plan on doing it as loudly as possible.

So, let’s see what kind of show this circus puts on this year! Watch this space….