Coates in Cancún: Down to the wire

By Bryan Walker 10/12/2010

This is Barry Coates of Oxfam NZ’s fifth report from COP16 in Cancún: deadline time…

Last night was very tense here at the climate change talks in Cancun. There is a certain rhythm when the deadline approaches. Some countries refuse to negotiate until they get their own way, playing Russian roulette and pushing the talks to the brink of collapse. This is particularly the case with the US at this summit. Their obstructionist behaviour is getting in the way of progress and putting people’s lives at risk.

I am writing this during heated parallel meetings, one chaired by NZ Climate Change Negotiations Minister, Tim Groser. The prospects of real progress in Cancun are on the edge. Here is the state of play:

The positive and constructive spirit that was evident last week is being put to the test. The real negotiations have finally begun, and parties are working late into the night. So far there has been too much posturing and not enough searching for solutions.

As expected, the issues of mitigation (reducing climate change pollution) and the future of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol are crucial. There is a proposal from the facilitators — UK, Brazil, Indonesia and NZ — which would see the Copenhagen Accord pledges listed in ’Information documents’ and taken note of in the decision text. This is not a strong enough solution for many developing countries and NGOs. Venezuela and others suggested this would signify a rolling back even from the commitments made under the Copenhagen Accord. Merely “taking note” of the numbers is very weak, and does not entail any legal obligations whatsoever on parties with regard to the pledges. That’s a lowest common denominator approach, and parties must do better. We need progress towards an agreement, not just a noting of what was agreed in the last hours of Copenhagen.

On a range of other issues, the US continues to block progress. They are unconstructively insisting that the issue of concern to them (MRV, or Measurement, Reporting and Verification) is resolved to their satisfaction before they allow anything else to move. They are refusing to agree issues such as the establishment of an adaptation committee, agreement to the proposed technology transfer mechanism and, crucially, the establishment of a global Climate Fund.

Last night in the finance negotiations, developing countries pushed for agreement on a decision that would establish a new Climate Fund, refusing to discuss the modalities of such a fund until this was clear. The US was unprepared to do that without further progress on the issue of MRV.

These blocking tactics in all night negotiating sessions are particularly hard to bear for the smaller delegations of many developing countries — those who have most at stake in a successful deal in Cancun. Their few delegates are expected to work into the morning hours, a workload that is more manageable for the larger delegations from the industrialised countries.

The Climate Fund is essential as an agreement from Cancun. This is a key to unlocking the potential for developing countries to strengthen their action on climate change, as well as to provide funding for countries and communities around the world suffering the harshest impacts. The US must not be allowed to hold the lives of poor and vulnerable people hostage to their political needs.

With one day left to strike a deal which delivers for poor countries already facing worsening droughts, stronger storms and eroding shorelines, it is time for Ministers to lead in our common interests, not to pursue their own political agendas.