Cancun must not repeat Copenhagen

  • 20/11/2010

Developing countries must guard against a repeat of the situation at Copenhagen, where negotiations under the UNFCCC were deliberately stalled, and Heads of State/Ministers from developing countries were pressured to agree to “something” to save the climate regime from collapse. At Cancun this is likely to be ending differentiation between groups of countries, presented as something benign and described as increased transparency.

The developing countries should not allow themselves to pledge specific actions only to add reservations later when they recorded them with the United Nations because they had not understood the full implication of what was on the table. While the United States made its pledge conditional on legislative approval in the political agreement itself, in effect taking no action at Copenhagen.

The recent Communiqué of the G 20 is notable for one addition to the issues being negotiated under the Bali Plan of Action – transparency. The dictionary meaning of the word is ‘easy to perceive’. Therefore, international review/assessment should be only of the data provided, and not of the effects of the actions. The developed countries want the international standard to be “environmental effectives”, which is what they have to comply with, and would imply that eradication of poverty is no longer the overriding priority of developing countries, even though this is provided under Article 4.7, and endorsed by the Copenhagen Accord.

Developing countries must remain cautious of the related stress on international analysis of national actions, which can only be done against an agreed benchmark, which should not be in terms of environmental effectiveness, but rather how best developing countries eradicate poverty while making the transition to sustainable development, for it to have legitimacy.

Developing countries have already shown flexibility with respect to both finance and technology transfer. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that emerged at the Rio Conference, in 1992, did not specify what is to be done and paid for and by whom and for what purpose. In the subsequent debates over whether developing countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and, if so, how much financial support should be provided the principle has remained undefined, over the past twenty years.

The developing countries can show leadership by suggesting that incremental steps continue to be taken, with the issue being finally decided in the next major review of the Convention. In the interim, rather than discuss how much of the resources should come from developed country budgets, because we all know that these will be limited, they should change the paradigm and suggest that immediately available resources are provided to enable adaptation measures in the least developed countries.

The Panel on Finance set up by the Secretary General has suggested options based on the precondition that there will be a price on carbon. The implication is that developing countries also begin to regulate carbon, as only then can there be a global price on carbon. As they still have to eradicate poverty, it would raise the price of energy with adverse implications for their growth. Focusing the discussion on the outcome rather than the source of funds would be a strategic response.

Similarly, whether or not the intellectual property regime needs to be amended for climate change actions remains a source of continuing tension. Here also developing countries have sought to focus on joint research and development, based on the successful model of the green revolution, and must ensure that innovative energy and agricultural technologies that emerge from these centers, and from government funded research, are in the public domain.

Cancun will also require developing countries to make policy choices on the evolution of climate governance. Developing countries are being told by the United Nations that a package deal need not include legally binding emissions reduction commitments. The Parties to the Kyoto Protocol now argue that, despite an unambiguous commitment, they will agree to a second commitment period only if the United States is included, and the latter will take commitments only if China (now the largest emitter) and India (which will become the third largest emitter) take on symmetrical commitments. The implication is that in the next round of negotiations, or at the proposed review in 2013, developing countries will have to take similar commitments as developed countries.

Rather than adopt a compromise, if they have to, developing countries should suggest new rules to determine legally binding criteria for burden sharing that will apply to all countries.