5 Things the World Needs From Cancun

To the naked eye, expectations are low for the United Nation’s annual climate change conference beginning today in Cancún, Mexico. There is little question that last year’s Copenhagen meeting left behind a bruised UN process, which was exacerbated by the subsequent failure of the U.S. Congress to pass climate legislation.

So let’s be clear – this year is about getting a few base hits to restore confidence in the international negotiating process on climate change, rather than swinging for the bleachers.

We do still want a comprehensive international agreement on climate that will limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but that is not on offer this year. Instead, we are looking for a “balanced package” of decisions on the lowest hanging fruit, including:

  1. A decision that addresses forest loss and establishes the parameters of the international system called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)
  2. A decision that explicitly recognizes the contribution of ecosystem-based approaches to climate adaptation
  3. A financing decision that starts a process to create the “Green Fund” envisioned by the Copenhagen Accord
  4. A forest-sector decision that closes the loopholes in forest carbon accounting under the Kyoto rules
  5. A process decision that extends the mandate of the negotiating process so we can eventually get to a comprehensive, legally binding agreement

These are the “building blocks” for success in the official process in Cancún. Each of those individual elements is within reach, but we will have to watch out for the spoilers, who will seek to hold back movement on individual elements simply to block overall progress or to gain leverage on specific, unrelated issues. So, there are no “done deals” yet.

Just as important to the formal negotiations now are the parallel processes that have emerged since Copenhagen. Given the frustration with the multilateral process involving 190 countries, smaller, opt-in processes have sprung up where we think there are opportunities to make significant progress to advance our key issues. We’ll be paying equal attention to those as well.

“Fast-Start Finance” is one of the critical areas for success in Cancún. Developing countries are looking for evidence that donor countries are meeting their Copenhagen commitments. Those funds are not channeled under the convention; they were intended as a financial bridge until the next international agreement is in place. The Nature Conservancy has done an analysis showing that about $12 billion of the promised $30 billion is now in the disbursement pipeline.

We are also closely tracking the “REDD+ Partnership,” encouraging it to evolve into an effective coalition for furthering REDD readiness and pilot-project implementation in developing countries as well as a forum for sharing lessons about REDD implementation and finance.

And we are supporting the development of a similar partnership on adaptation to accelerate implementation and lesson-learning.

And, of course, we are encouraging countries and others to make unilateral announcements for action on the ground. This is where having the COP in a country where The Nature Conservancy has a strong presence makes a huge difference. Our Mexico team is lining up two major announcements.

The first is the announcement of a “Regional Climate Change Plan” between the three state governments of the Yucatan Peninsula, which will include the commitment to develop a regional REDD program. The second is the announcement of a “Declaration for Conservation and Climate Change Adaptation” along the MesoAmerican Reef involving the governments of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

These events underscore an important message: while progress is still possible – albeit lamentably slow – in the official UN process, there are plenty of innovative things happening. Leaders aren’t waiting for an international agreement and The Nature Conservancy is actively facilitating real work on the ground and in the water.

So, if you happen to be standing in Cancún looking out at the ocean, the evidence would be right in front of you – in the form of the conservation and adaptation partnership being formed by the four coastal countries – and right behind you – in the form of the REDD+ partnership being formed by the three governors.

The Nature Conservancy’s delegation will be here in Cancún for the next two weeks working closely within and outside the negotiations. (Cancun is not going to be a vacation by any means, though waiting in long UN security lines in the tropical warmth will be a vast improvement over the last two Decembers we spent freezing in Poznan, Poland and Copenhagen, Denmark.)

We will have an ample collection of reports on everything from forests to adaptation to finance to conservation to the negotiations themselves posted at Nature.org and our blogs Cool Green Science and Planet Change. Stay tuned …

(Image: Cancunmesse´s gate, one of the official venues of the COP16. Image Credit: Courtesy of UN COP16 photo pool.)

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