The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

A Practitioner’s Thoughts on Cancun

Posted in Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters by NTSblog on February 10, 2011

In a recent public seminar, a climate change negotiator in Southeast Asia gave his thoughts on the UNFCCC meeting in Cancun in late 2010 (COP16). His comprehensive presentation addressed three questions: (1) Why did Cancun succeed? (2) What did Cancun achieve? and (3) What was not done in Cancun?

Why did Cancun succeed?

Compared to the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP15) which was deemed a failure, COP16 was relative success. While  may COP16 benefitted from the low-expectations on the UNFCC process after the failure in Copenhagen, three factors could be highlighted for COP16’s success. Firstly, Mexico demonstrated skilful chairmanship and leadership at COP16. Secondly, although criticised for being a piecemeal effort, the Copenhagen Accord was nevertheless a political understanding amongst major parties and hence a political framework that COP16 could build on. Finally, ensuring success of the meeting was in the interest of major powers, such as the US and China, as blocking climate negotiations would be detrimental to their image. As such, these major players made the effort to express their concerns without causing further delay in the negotiations.

What did Cancun achieve?

COP16 essentially restored some faith in the multilateral process which was lost due to COP15. There are four significant outcomes of COP16. First, a multi-lateral political decision was made that the to ensure that global temperature increase remains below 2 degrees. Second, the voluntary pledges for carbon emission reductions by countries would be formalised and compiled into a document, thereby creating a ‘soft norm’ for other countries to follow suit. Third, COP16 ensured the adoption of a framework for transparency and accountability for not only developed but also developing countries. This would involve a peer review process known as the International Consultation Analysis (similar to the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Policy Review and the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review). Fourth, a $100 billion Green Climate Fund would be established to provide developing states with the necessary financial assistance they need, particularly in terms of adaptation measures and technology transfer.

What’s next?

While the above mentioned outcomes are a step forward for addressing climate change, two important areas have not been addressed. Firstly, little was said about adopting a global legal binding treaty as embedded in the low expectations for Cancun was the assumption by many policymakers that a legal binding treaty would not be adopted. Second, there was little mention of renewing the Kyoto Protocol since countries such as Russia and Japan have indicated that they are not interested renewing their commitments in the Kyoto Protocol It is unclear whether these issues could be addressed in the next UNFCCC in Durban later this year. Nevertheless, the outcomes of COP16 are commendable in breaking political deadlocks and sustaining the momentum for further international cooperation on climate change.


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