Ecocentric

Climate: A Compromise Deal Is Sealed on Global Warming at Cancún [UPDATE 2]

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Update [3:28 AM CST 12/11/10]: That’s it. Over the strenuous and highly verbal objections of Bolivia, the more than 190 countries at Cancún adopted a compromise deal that points the way towards a new system fo climate diplomacy that will include complementary actions by both developed and developing nations. The Cancun Agreements “mark a new era in international cooperation on climate change,” said Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who presided over the negotiations.

The Copenhagen Agreements should be thought of as the Copenhagen Compromise—there was much here for countries to like and dislike. And the pledges for actually reduce carbon emissions—which date back to last year’s Copenhagen Accord—are far too timid now to prevent the world from likely reaching dangerous levels of warming, as Bolivia pointed out repeatedly. But what may be more important is that, after the difficulties of Copenhagen and the past year, the countries meeting here were able to negotiate in a positive way. Not perfect—not close—but positive. The planet wasn’t saved in Cancún, but the U.N. climate process was.

I’ll have more as I talk to delegates here and/or try to recharge my brain…

Update [12:26 AM CST 12/11/10]: COP 16 just concluded an informal plenary session (a meeting of all the countries in a single room) and the draft text looks to be headed for acceptance. The main obstacle: Bolivia. Ambassador Solon reiterated his basic objections with the text—and added that he had been harassed by security trying to get into the crowded session—and called for the two working groups to go back into session and go back over the draft texts. (Somewhat confusingly, there are two parallel texts here—one covering the Kyoto Protocol, the other covering what’s called the Ad-hoc Working Group for Long-term Cooperative Action, which includes everything else. The U.S., which never ratified Kyoto, only deals with LCA, which looks to the future of climate diplomacy.)

A similar disruption happened at the troubled tail end of the Copenhagen summit last year, when a handful of countries—including Bolivia—refused to adopt the Copenhagen Accord and essentially derailed the process. But we’ve learned that Cancún is not Copenhagen. Country after country stood up in support of the draft texts, from small island states like the Maldives to Mideast nations like the United Arab Emirates to major developing nations like India. China and the U.S., the two elephants in the room, expressed their support. As Todd Stern said: “Let’s do what it takes to get this deal done.”

Despite the overwhelming sentiment in the room—expressed every time delegates broke out in applause in support of the Mexican presidency—the U.N. system is one that runs by consensus, and a single angry country can block progress. Right now the working groups are back meeting, hoping to speed through the objections. With luck, this may be done in a few hours.

Original: About two hours ago Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who has been the president of the climate summit at Cancún, gaveled one of the plenary sessions to a close, just after negotiators and the press were given the latest draft texts of the negotiating documents that have been worked on for two weeks here. As she finished, something practically unprecedented happened—the assembled diplomats gave her a long standing ovation. The response was in part an appreciation by the negotiators here of the open and skillful way the Mexican have run this meeting—in contrast to the Danes last year in Copenhagen, who were widely criticized for mishandling the summit. But the ovation might also be a sign that after nearly two weeks of talks and a lot of back and forth, a workable climate compromise could be close.

That’s the sense from a number of analysts and delegates who spent the past few hours pouring over the draft texts. Though there’s still a long way to go—including plenary sessions where countries will be able to register their objections—the texts as they exist seem to have satisfy most of the major demands of countries like the U.S. and China, while giving concessions to smaller nations and providing a finesse for the Kyoto Protocol mess that had threatened to torpedo the summit. “It’s not over yet,” says Lou Leonard, the managing director for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund. “This text shows we’ve come a long way with countries being able to negotiate over tough issues, and make progress.”

Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council has a good rundown of the draft texts as they are now, and some of the compromises that might make this a workable deal. The U.S. should definitely have reason to be happy—the agreement in many ways extends and strengthens the Copenhagen Accord that President Obama helped negotiate last year. It calls on countries—both developed and developing—to implement the climate pledges they’ve made over the last year. And vital for Washington, the text calls for surprisingly strong mechanisms for measuring, reporting and verifying—the magic MRV—the climate actions of developed and developing nations. Countries would report their emissions actions through an International Consultation and Analysis (ICA), which takes elements from a proposal floated by the Indians before the summit began. “The stuff on the transparency is really strong,” says Schmidt. “That was the domino—it had to fall in effect, and once that was agreed everything else was in a pretty good place.”

So right now it looks like the tough U.S. negotiating position may have paid off. And advocates were generally happy with the other parts of the deal, including avoided deforestation, climate financing and adaptation. The debate over the future of the Kyoto Protocol hasn’t been settled but it seems to have been punted for now, so at least it’s no longer holding other parts of a deal up. “Today wasn’t the day to resolve all the issues around the Kyoto Protocol but rather to create a fragile new U.N. agreement with all the major economies basing their emission reduction pledges,” says Jennifer Morgan, climate and energy program director at the World Resources Institute.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the deal is sealed by any means. The texts are just drafts, and individual nations may have objections that haven’t been reflected so far. Those could come out at the plenary sessions. “This is a text that has no brackets, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any brackets in some of the negotiators’ minds,” says Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy at the Nature Conservancy. “That assumption will be tested over the coming hours.”

Indeed, at a press conference at 7:30 PM, Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon gave a long list of his objections to the text as it stood now, and indicated that the country may reject it. (Because the U.N. system runs by consensus, any single country can essentially stop the adoption of a text if it chooses to do so.) And he noted that just because the atmosphere at the summit may seem positive, that doesn’t mean the problem is finished. “This isn’t solved with applause,” he said. “This is solved with negotiations. This is not a show.” We’ll find out soon what kind of show Bolivia wants to put on.

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