Optimism that UN climate talks will yield results


THE MEXICAN government’s determination that the UN climate conference in Cancún would produce a successful outcome paid off at the weekend when delegates and observers gave a general welcome to the latest negotiating text.

Rumours circulating last Friday that the Mexicans would simply try to build on last year’s loose Copenhagen Accord, effectively ditching firm commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, have given way to a more optimistic mood that Cancún would yield some results.

“A year after the challenges of Copenhagen, the atmosphere in Cancún is one of cautious optimism,” observed Tim Gore, Oxfam’s climate change policy adviser.

“Key questions remain unanswered but a package that makes progress on critical issues is within reach.”

Britain’s energy and environment secretary Chris Huhne, whose arrival was delayed because of the icy weather in London, said he was also optimistic for the negotiations: “The mood has been cautiously positive. People are talking. The show is on the road.”

As other ministers and high-level delegates from 193 countries flew in for the final week of talks in this sunny Caribbean holiday resort, Mr Huhne expressed confidence that the Cancún outcome would deliver a “clear signal” to the world on climate change.

“On issues such as mitigation, verification, forests, technology and adaptation, we can agree a package of measures that would send a clear signal to governments, investors and people around the world that the low-carbon transition is affordable, achievable and essential.”

However, Greenpeace complained that there was still “no acknowledgement of the gap between the current pledges and where emissions need to be in 2020 in order to stay below 2 degrees Celsius warming”, and said delegates in Cancún must address this problem.

Developing countries, along with a range of environment and development groups, welcomed a new opening in the Mexican text to “consider” limiting the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees – a demand made incessantly by vulnerable small island states.

Gordon Shepherd, of the World Wildlife Fund, said: “Since we are here ultimately to address the problem of global warming, we welcome the call in the negotiating text for a review of the adequacy of action to meet the long-term goal to limit warming to 2 degrees.”

He believed it was “significant” that, under the Mexican proposal, this review would start in 2013 and be completed by 2015. If adopted in Cancún, this would “set the timeline for the next round of negotiations for new commitments by countries” to reduce carbon emissions.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chair of the Africa Group, said the world’s rich countries needed to make such commitments under Kyoto. “For us, the Kyoto Protocol is a make or break issue. We need it. We call on all [rich] countries to come up with their pledges”, he added.

At least 20 heads of state or government from developing countries are expected to arrive in Cancún for the final “high-level segment” of the UN’s 16th successive annual climate change conference. However, unlike Copenhagen last year, none are expected from G20 countries.

Neither will Minister for the Environment John Gormley be flying to Cancún. He is detained in Dublin by this week’s budget and the preparation of a “carbon budget” for 2011, spelling out the implications of its harsh measures for Ireland’s already dwindling carbon emissions.