Our guest blogger is Andrew Light, a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of International Climate Policy at the Center for American Progress. The Wonk Room is blogging and tweeting live from the U.N. climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico.
Representatives from 194 countries gather this week in Cancun, Mexico, for the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. This is the body that succeeded in Copenhagen last year in crafting a nonbinding political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, that could serve as the foundation for creating a new binding climate treaty to either replace or complement the Kyoto Protocol. Chances for a big success, such as final ratification of the Copenhagen Accord or a new legally binding treaty, approach zero.
What could emerge from Cancun if we cannot expect a comprehensive agreement this time around? The consensus view for some time has been that the best chance is on a series of smaller though not insignificant agreements on deforestation, technology transfer, and the architecture for a global climate fund.
Throughout the year, however, the United States has insisted that it would not allow smaller pieces of an agreement to go forward, or, as Jonathan Pershing put it earlier in the week in Cancun:
Moving ahead on a few issues—deemed by some to be easy—while holding off on others—deemed by some to be difficult—is not a path for success.
China and other developing countries have expressed strong reservations in the past that they should be bound by a system of international verification of their emissions reductions, especially for voluntary reductions in emissions that they take on themselves without financial or technical assistance from developed countries. The question that many are asking now is whether the United States will use lack of progress in this area (“measurement, reporting, and verification,” or MRV) to stop movement on smaller agreements on forestry and other areas.
Early reports from Cancun suggest that the United States and China are showing signs of more agreement on the issue of measuring, reporting, and verifying emission reductions. If India’s proposed “International Consultation and Analysis” system for MRV — or something else that could take that good will and turn it into an agreement — survives the meeting, it could ensure substantive agreements in other areas like forestry or technology transfer. If it does not, the meeting may end in a showdown between those who want to move forward on individual parts of a climate treaty and those who do not.
As with last year’s climate summit, however, I’ll be ready to blame the process rather than particular parties in the event that nothing emerges from this meeting other than an agreement to meet again next year. The UNFCCC’s consensus rule among 194 parties makes the U.S. Senate’s 60-vote threshold for action enviable. Failure to make any gains this year will only increase calls for more climate action in smaller forums like the G-20 or the U.S.-led Major Economies Forum, which now brings together the 17 largest emitters in a series of regular discussions on proposals for clean technology cooperation.
These smaller venues might offer a better chance at coming to an agreement. But in doing so we will inherit an equally difficult problem: how to adequately represent the interests of the entire world into a process that won’t have all parties around the table. Let’s hope that the negotiators act in good faith to avoid such a predicament.
Read the full, original version of Andrew Light’s post, “So Close, Yet So Far.”