Spotlight Cancún: At Cancún, an elephant fills up the Moon and yet remains elusive

Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, Guest Blogger
Another in a series from the Triple Crisis Blog and the Real Climate Economics Blog on the Cancún Climate Summit.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a result was trumpeted in the great hall of the Moon (the official venue of UNFCCC COP16 talks in Cancún, Mexico), as crowds congratulated President Calderon, themselves, and one another. The outcome surpassed widely held low expectations, which were masterfully weather-beaten throughout the year by the frank Yvo de Boer and other opinion-makers à la suite. The tortuous consensus (minus Bolivia’s erratic stand), speaks of a blueprint for the long-term, and a continuation of sorts of the Kyoto Protocol.

From a quick reading of the advanced unedited versions of the main documents just agreed upon, and paraphrasing on-site reports by Ana Kleymeyer, other ICTSD colleagues, and Charlotte Streak of Climate Focus, Cancún sets 1.5 degrees as a global goal, and provides measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) for mitigation actions by all countries, including developing ones, with China’s agreement. It also agrees to a timeframe for a global and differentiated “peak” for emissions by 2011’s COP 17 in Durban, South Africa.

Furthermore, it brings about guidelines and rules for mitigation action and financing through the avoidance of emissions from deforestation and degradation in a contemporary version of living forests that recognizes forest-users and their rights as well as advances in international law. It strengthens the Adaptation Fund, with a 3-year interim mandate for the World Bank to manage it; establishes the Copenhagen Accord’s promised Green Fund, involving a transitional committee with a majority of developing countries as members; creates a registry to record nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries seeking supportive finance and technology, and sets up a network-based technology centre. In a display of wisdom, delegates also ensured survival of the up-to-now US$ 50 billion CDM, including consideration of its expansion into sectors, as well as the establishment of a new financing scheme to support countries with less than 10 CDM projects, in particular LDCs and SIDS.  Altogether, this is a major accomplishment in international cooperation. Even if far from a perfect result, Cancún constitutes a most welcome building block towards the construction of an effective global regime for climate, irrespective of whether it’s through a bottom-up or top-down architecture, or a smart blend of the two.

I came to Cancún from Dubai, where the World Economic Forum had gathered 600 of the foremost experts from academia, business, governments and civil society to look at global trends for the new decade. There, the issues of global power shifts, population growth, uncertainty of economic recovery, inequality, and shortage of resources were signalled as primary seeds of immediate global risks in need of management. Climate change was not on the same footing; nor was the fate of the world’s governance of trade, investment and finance. Yet, shortcomings in international cooperation in both areas, climate and trade, constitute an underpinning of global risk. In Cancún, the imperative of including agriculture and biofuels; or to decide on a blueprint for mitigation of emissions caused by bunker fuels; or to define system-wide, large-scale levers for market-based action on mitigation and adaptation; or, establish new approaches that differentiate and foster innovation for climate from technological drivers in other areas and in the past, were all avoided. Not tackling these issues, and not agreeing on guidance that could be used to move forward in the fine-tuning of existing regulatory frameworks, leaves the burden of interpretation and action to sub-national and national governments, and likely, to ensuing clashes within the existing and effective trade regime. It adds to risk rather than to comfort.

At an ICTSD symposium earlier in the week, a WEF-sponsored ad hoc group of trade and climate governance analysts and practitioners launched a call for action entitled: From Collision to Vision: Climate Change and World Trade. It emphasizes the need for WTO members to negotiate a “green space” to allow for enactment of national measures to combat climate change; to eliminate tariffs on environmental goods and services, within the current Doha Round or as a possible stand-alone initiative; and to re-establish as legal environmental subsidies that encourage the development of green technologies and prohibit subsidies for fossil fuel. It also exhorts WTO members to immediately begin negotiating agreements to resolve the issues likely to arise from the enactment of national measures on climate change, rather than leave those issues to eventual resolution in dispute settlement, and reminds everyone that WTO rules should not be viewed solely as constraints on efforts to address climate change. These rules can and should be used affirmatively to help fight climate change. Moreover, the lessons drawn from building a principled and comprehensive, quasi-universal regime of economic governance, may well be used as reference in the definition of specific aspects of the climate cooperative scaffolding.

Last week, the politics and political economy of trade and investment, of those trends orbiting the dawn of the second decade of this century and menacing the shaping of the 21st century world, were all over the Moon and in room after room in every stop of the intense busing and buzzing of Cancún. They cried for governments’ action as imperative to de-risking that future; yet they seem to have proved much too big, much too critical and remained elusive.

Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz is Founder and Chief Executive of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) in Geneva, and Director of its Global Platform on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainable Energy.

3 Responses to “Spotlight Cancún: At Cancún, an elephant fills up the Moon and yet remains elusive”

  1. This is a very comprehensive report of what happened in Cancun. Many contentious trade-related issues such as BTAs, agriculture and bunker fuels, large-scale levers for market-based approaches and IPRs were taken out of the final decisions. Does this mean these issues will not be handled in the UNFCCC for a long time (which will inevitably result in the clash you mention with the trade regime)? Or is there still a chance that these issues will be considered in the final package that will hopefully will be put together in Durban next year? And what should those in both the trade and the climate arena do to harmonize these different worlds?

    Many thanks,

    Joachim Monkelbaan

  2. Thanks, Joachim. We don’t really know what the outcome means for the future inclusion of these issues in the UNFCCC process, We can only hope that countries find the way to incorporate them in a way that provides for clarity, certainty and predictability -regardless of where they ultimately find a home in the ensuing global economic governance system. Negotiators and others in the respective policy knowledge communities, in the trade and climate in particular, would do well to deepen the analysis, intensify the dialogue and keep the linkages on the forefront of decision-making instances. If this is so, it may well be that in Durbin we see material progress. Many thanks,

  3. Very descriptive post, I loved that a lot. Will there be a
    part 2?