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Is Cancun deal good news for next year’s key climate talks?

Welcome to the final issue of 2010. Where has the year gone?

Talking of time passing quickly, it hardly seems 12 months since the debacle of the COP 15 climate talks in Copenhagen. Yet, just we were going to press, this year’s United Nations’ (UN) climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, ended. But contrary to the acrimony of last year’s talks, Cancun has been heralded a success by some.

This description is clearly an exaggeration. A better one would be ‘an agreement of compromises’, which is probably the norm when you consider the challenge of trying to find common ground between countries that have very different climate agendas. Nonetheless it is being recognized as a platform upon which “a comprehensive agreement can be reached” at next year’s COP 17 meeting in South Africa.

So what was agreed in Mexico? One significant development was the commitment to establish a Green Climate Fund, which reinforces the promise made by industrialized countries last year to provide billions of dollars to help developing countries guard against the impacts of climate change and assist them with their low-carbon development. The scheme aims to raise and distribute $100 billion a year by 2020, and will be overseen by the UN.

What was not made clear in the agreement is how these not insignificant funds will be raised. Many commentators believe that the majority will have to come from the private sector.

The agreement also outlined a mechanism for the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries, and the parameters for funding the reduction in deforestation in developing countries.

In the run up to Cancun’s COP 16 meeting, the non-profit international organization e8, which comprises ten global electricity majors ” AEP, Duke Energy, EDF, Electrobas, Enel, Hydro-Quebec, Kansai Electric Power Company, RusHydro and Tokyo Electric Power Company ” published five main recommendations for successful negotiations in Cancun.

The group may be pleased with the more encompassing nature of the Cancun agreement and to see the establishment of the Green Climate Fund. Its recommendations included the need for a greater global reach and the creation of financing mechanisms to assist developing countries in implementing appropriate policies on mitigation and adaptation.

However, e8 is likely to be less impressed overall because other financing mechanisms, such as the greater use of public”private partnerships to deploy low-carbon technologies and support infrastructure expansion, as well as the expansion of offset mechanisms, such as the CDM, were left out of the agreement.

In fact, the Cancun deal essentially delayed the whole issue of the successor to the Kyoto Protocol (surely the whole point of these annual climate change meetings?) until next year’s UN meeting in Durban.

Having said that, Cancun did acknowledge that the target to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 à‚°C was not sufficient and that cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of between 25″40 per cent on 1990 levels were needed. The agreement gives the promise to review whether the goal should be lowered to 1.5 à‚°C, and also brings countries’ voluntary emissions targets proposed at Copenhagen into the UN’s future negotiating process.

There is speculation that the European Union may try to broker a compromise between Japan and Russia, who do not want an second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, and developing countries, who do, by agreeing a two-year extension to Kyoto until a legally-binding replacement is reached.

As is often the case in international negotiations the Cancun agreement is a mixed bag and without doubt raises the stakes at next year’s UN conference sky high. With the Kyoto Protocol due to expire at the end of 2012, the South Africa climate talks are essentially the last chance for a new, all-encompassing, legally-binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction deal to be reached. Whether that is achievable remains to be seen.

Kind regards,
Dr Heather Johnstone,
Chief Editor

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