Cancún climate talks can spur momentum toward global deal, national and regional actions

The United Nations climate conference begins today in Cancún, Mexico — a two-week intensive negotiations session with nearly 200 countries meeting to broker a global deal addressing climate change, in a city best known for its white-sand beaches and spring break getaways.

Beyond the city's reputation as a vacation destination and the conference's casual dress code, in Cancún countries are finding themselves at a critical point when they need to restore momentum toward a global climate deal, even as many are embarking on their own domestic and regional efforts to curb climate change rather than waiting on a global deal.

U.N. forum can make progress on climate issues

The U.N. climate conference starting today in Cancún can make progress in global climate issues, especially in avoiding deforestation, transparency and finance. Countries are already taking their own actions domestically to curb climate change.

The clouds of last year's hyped meeting in Copenhagen still loom over the negotiations, and both environmental groups and countries themselves have been tempering expectations for the Cancún summit after Copenhagen concluded with countries making only non-binding commitments in the conference’s final hours.

However, as the negotiations begin today alongside the sun and surf, EDF's Managing Director of International Climate Policy Jennifer Haverkamp said there are reasons to look to Cancún for some positive movement:

Despite the lowered expectations this year, it’s critical to remember that Cancún is an opportunity for countries to move forward on critical climate change issues. There is still positive progress to be made on curbing deforestation, increasing transparency, and financing climate change mitigation activities.

In parallel process, countries already taking national steps

Since the Copenhagen conference, there have been clear signs that parties are still interested in reaching an agreement within the U.N. process, and Cancún is their opportunity to show they can find a way — despite disagreements over some of the fundamental issues.

But as negotiators continue to work toward an overall agreement in the UNFCCC forum, nations are not waiting on an outcome from the U.N. before starting to take their own domestic and regional actions, in what has become a parallel process to that of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Haverkamp said:

While the U.N. will continue to be the preferred forum for reaching a global deal, the good news for a planet that can’t wait is that a parallel process is emerging at national and state levels, with countries and regions developing their own paths forward through domestic actions and bilateral and multilateral deals to curb climate change.

One example of success in this parallel process is when earlier this month the Governors of California, the Brazilian state of Acre and the Mexican state of Chiapas signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a working group to promote efforts on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) at the state level.  The MOU — whose working group will make recommendations to California’s Air Resources Board on how reductions in deforestation from Acre, Chiapas, and eventually other states enter California’s carbon market — clearly shows that state governments can take effective steps to substantially reduce emissions and grow their economies without waiting for an international agreement.

Opportunity in Cancún to move forward on critical issues

Haverkamp identified three critical issues the UNFCCC's Conference of the Parties (COP-16) needs to address in Cancún to move forward:

1. Implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

REDD+ policies have the best chances of advancing at Cancún of any of the climate effort.

But a major consideration in developing REDD+ must be indigenous peoples, who are the best-suited to monitor and protect their land from deforestation. The REDD+ language needs to strengthen protections for indigenous peoples, increase the role of stakeholders in the negotiating process and provide greater clarity on technical issues in establishing baselines for emissions and plans for implementing REDD.

2. Launch comprehensive and transparent monitoring, reporting and verification and reporting (MRV) systems that may be used in bilateral and regional agreements.

Experience shows that nations often are willing agree to more comprehensive inspection and verification systems on a bilateral basis than in a broader multilateral context.  We encourage negotiators to launch a process in Cancún to develop an international framework for monitoring, verification and reporting that can simultaneously be used by countries pursuing bilateral and regional approaches.

3. Establish transparency and accountability for climate financing efforts in developing nations, whether the sources are public or private.

It is clear from the Advisory Group on Finance report that getting to $100 billion per year in climate funding is possible, though it will require serious political will and incentives, and a price of at least $20-$25 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

Direct public finance will be necessary to spur private finance, but regardless of the source, there must be transparency and accountability in how the funds are generated, allocated, and spent.

We must recognize that eventually it is private capital, the engine of global growth, that will shape the new carbon constrained global economy.

EDF has a team of experts on the ground in Cancún, and we'll be posting on this Climate Talks blog regularly — check back with us soon.

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