Spotlight Cancún: The Curtain Rises for Climate Negotiations

Miquel Muñoz

The UN Climate Change Conference started today and will be meeting for the next two weeks in the resort city of Cancún, México. The Spotlight Cancún series, a joint series by Triple Crisis and the Real Climate Economics blog, which this post begins, will invite experts to analyze different aspects of the climate change negotiations, and how these, in turn affect the bigger picture of finance, development and the environment. We welcome Miquel Muñoz as a regular contributor to Triple Crisis to begin the discussion.

The Cancún conference runs through December 10 and comprises: six official UNFCCC meetings (COP 16, COP/MOP 6, AWG-LCA 13, AWG-KP 15, SBSTA 33 and SBI 33); side conferences such as the Global Business Day, Agriculture and Rural Development Day, Oceans Day, Development and Climate Days, and Forest Day; hundreds of official and unofficial side events; and all the social and cultural activities that traditionally accompany such meetings, such as the climate village. Cancún, like previous UN Climate Change Conferences, is more than just a negotiation; it’s the yearly gathering of the climate change community.

Over the next two weeks, we may or may not hear about Cancún in the news. Distractions such as sabre-rattling half a world away and leaks of US diplomatic cables will keep the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters, the US and China, the UN Secretary-General, foreign ministries from all over the world, the international press and others occupied. But even without these distractions, the truth is that expectations for any agreement happening in Cancún were already low. So low, in fact, that some analysts have even posted a pre-mortem of the meeting.

This is a stark contrast from high (and unfulfilled) expectations prior to Copenhagen a year ago. There seems to be a growing acceptance that the push for global concerted action on climate change has run out of steam, at least for now. The host country, Mexico, will doubtlessly do its best to have a successful meeting, and, barring that, to at least restore the image of the host as a logistically competent organizer and a fair broker – both expectations unfulfilled by Denmark last year.

Cancún is likely to be characterized by procedural issues and complex negotiation dynamics, the staple of UNFCCC negotiations. Some would consider a mere streamlining of the process a success. For those readers interested in the nitty-gritty, an excellent source of information is IISD Reporting Services and its Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Other resources include a Guide to the Negotiations and the UNFCCC’s iPhone/iPad app “Negotiator.”

But for our readers not immersed in climate negotiations or interested in negotiation dynamics and procedure, what are the salient elements of Cancún? As I noted in a previous post, the lack of a deal on the future of the global carbon market will be a major consequence of the missed Copenhagen/Cancún window of opportunity. Without a post-Kyoto agreement, there is no global carbon market or Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) beyond 2012, and without these, there is nothing preventing a mosaic-like array of national carbon schemes, each designed to protect its national interests. Given, however, that parties already gave up on trying to reach a comprehensive agreement at Cancún, the uncertain fate of the global carbon markets is barely news.

Financing, fast-start financing to be precise, will likely dominate the negotiations. Without a decent arrangement on the fast-start financing promised in Copenhagen, another broken promise by the North will be added to the pile, fuelling deep (and mostly justified) mistrust by the South. The Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing was un-inspiring, though some of the group’s working papers may prove useful, and progress is possible.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and from technology are heralded as two areas where much “progress” has been made and on which negotiators are “close” to agreement. Optimists think agreement on those areas is possible independently of an eventual great climate bargain. Not-so-optimists consider this wishful thinking.

REDD has many sponsors, including the UN-REDD Programme, the REDD+ Partnership (with 71 countries) and a vast array of civil society organizations. As desirable as reducing (emissions from) deforestation and forest degradation is, at a fundamental level the premise of REDD is that this will be funded with climate money. Without a comprehensive climate agreement, it is unclear where the money will come from. Even if an agreement was reached on fast-start financing, and even if some of that financing was earmarked for REDD, that would be short-term and probably insufficient, thus rendering any agreement on REDD provisional and/or procedural, rather than substantive.

The development and transfer of clean technologies is also a laudable goal. Until going green gets dirty. Recent trade rows over subsidies to clean technologies and supply restrictions to strategic rare earth minerals (essential for many modern technologies including efficient lighting and wind and solar energy) illustrate the kind of issues we might encounter if technology transfer is to be scaled up to any meaningful scale.

Cancún, nonetheless, holds great opportunity for those thinking in the longer-range future. As the climate negotiations stall, stakeholders realize they have to put some of their eggs outside of the UNFCCC basket. From renewable energy to coastal protection, from insurance schemes to weather observation, from biodiversity to human rights, countless actors who were trying hard to fit their issues on the UNFCCC agenda (most in the hope of accessing climate money and attention) are beginning to look elsewhere or do it themselves. The UNFCCC may stall, but the world moves on. And as the disengagement process unfolds, a wave of innovative ideas will emerge. Many of those will be voiced in Cancún, some for the first time. For that reason alone, then, it is worth paying attention to what is being said in the Riviera Maya.

3 Responses to “Spotlight Cancún: The Curtain Rises for Climate Negotiations”

  1. Best of luck, though these events are always mostly theatrical events, and perhaps warning signals, of democratic processes and entrepreneurial necessities. The “global carbon markets” for example, cater to an economic and financial vision that is not socially or environmentally efficient. For example, take the progress of the Baywind Renewable Energy Co-op in England. Look it up. Founded as local English folk responded to a Swedish enterprise on the Danish co-op model, Baywind REC has driven a co-op model in an economy otherwise paralyzed and anesthetized by neoclassical and neoliberal thought and practice.
    I recently wrote my thesis on Baywind and their kin. The more I pay attention to local and participatory initiatives, the less I rely on the mainstream spotlights. Miguel Mendonca of the World Futures Council et al have written a great Politics and Society article on the concrete market institutions and innovative democracy approach with great interest in RE feed in payments. In that realm, there is quite a bit of progress.

  2. Arthur D. Blade says:

    Dear Mark Rego-Monteiro,

    As a graduate and PhD candidate at Cambridge, I have analysed your thinking and I must have my reply as to complete on your limited thoughts. There is a global policy that has to create this Globalisation, dear friend. That implies networking regions. As you probably know, the regions cannot be committed without strong cooperative actions. The West will conquer the world and UK together with the US are on their way of implementing the Globalised World vision by 2020. Cancun is nothing but a chapter of the final written law for the New Globalised World. Other chapters include weakening China and tracking Moscow into economic networking in order to make it dependent and obliged to pass its resources to the West and the US. This world is not as fair as we would like it to be, but do we know what is the true fairness? We must keep on going and get united. Communism collapsed, China is transformed into a democratic communist country, Russia will be left alone, collapse and pray for survival, while being westernised. This is the world we live in. There is no other choice!

  3. […] Miquel Muñoz, Boston University’s Pardee Center. […]