At the end of last year’s Copenhagen climate talks, the UN negotiating process toward a new binding global climate treaty seemed near ruin.
Only a voluntary emissions curbing deal – the Copenhagen Accord – had been agreed among the world’s major greenhouse emitters, despite huge expectations of a stronger agreement. Small developing countries were outraged at the last-minute deal that bypassed years of negotiations – and them. Some analysts wondered aloud if the UN process had run its course.
All that gloom, remarkably, seems to be lifting at this year’s climate talks, hosted by Mexico in Cancun.
Expectations are lower this time, with negotiators working primarily to put in place some of the key pieces of an eventual bigger deal. Those include a forest protection scheme and a working programme to get financial assistance to poorer nations who need help adopting cleaner energy technology and adapting to the effects of climate change.
Mexico’s foreign minister Patricia Espinosa, the host of the summit, has won over negotiators with her promises that this time there will be no behind-the-scenes negotiating texts or plans for last-minute deals.
That is should help negotiators “compromise on issues with each other, as there is no hidden agenda,” said Hasan Mahmud, Bangladesh’s environment minister.
A Colombian envoy early this week similarly urged negotiators to put to rest “the ghost of Copenhagen” and move ahead.
Little by little, an atmosphere of greater trust – if not exactly one of speedy progress – is taking hold.
“It’s clear we’re at a much better place than we were a year ago,” said Tim Gore, a spokesman for Oxfam International.
The challenge now, he and others said, is to make sure that any advances made at Cancun aren’t just about agreeing the right principles, objectives and options, but include a move to action – particularly on getting climate assistance funds flowing to poorer countries already struggling to put in place protections against the impacts of climate change.
At Copenhagen, richer nations agreed to spend $30 billion in “fast-start” climate assistance financing from 2010 to 2012 to help the world’s most vulnerable nations put their economies on a low-carbon growth path and cope with climate impacts.
That money has yet to begin flowing, in part because negotiators are still working on the plans and structures for how it will be channelled, divided and dispersed.
Now “we need it to actually happen,” said Tara Rao, a spokeswoman for the World Wildlife Fund.
Negotiators “want to engage. They feel there is a change in the air,” she said. But “we are not there yet.”
While the negotiating goes on, of course, so do the carbon emissions. Even if all the voluntary emissions reductions commitments made at Copenhagen last year were fulfilled, the world would be only 60 percent of the way toward holding temperatures to a 2 degree Celsius rise, a level recommended by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N. Environmental Programme noted in a new report.
Many scientists now believe the world is on target for at least a 4 degree average rise in temperature this century.
“Nature isn’t waiting while we negotiate,” noted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a speech Tuesday.