Here’s the question of the day: What do you think of the ‘Cancun Agreements’?
UPDATE: Here is a a pdf file of the text. Treehugger (whose website that seems to have been taken over by rollover/pop-up ads for Shell oil) headlines its piece, “Cancun Climate Agreement Saves UN Process But Not The Climate.” Politico headlines its piece, “Cancun ends with modest climate deal.”
Here’s a statement on the forestry agreement from John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and Co-Chair of the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forest (followed by a summary of the Cancun Agreements by CAP’s Richard W. Caperton):
“Early this morning in Cancun, Mexico the world’s nations finally agreed to move forward on a substantive agreement on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation as part of a balanced package of other decision in the “Cancun Agreements.” This is a big win for all of us who have been arguing that this is the most efficient way to move forward with fighting climate change in the near term and absolutely essential as a means to protect biodiversity and advance global conservation goals.
Global emissions from deforestation are equal to total emission from the transportation sector. Those who may dismiss the decision on forestry in the Cancun Agreements as a small step forward do not have a proper appreciation that global warming simply cannot be solved without attention to the problem of deforestation.
After committing $1 billion last year in Copenhagen to fund the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD programs, the United States had already joined other countries such as Norway in showing leadership on this issue. But the many different global efforts to make progress on reducing emissions from deforestation need coherence to ensure our ability to spend these dollars wisely to ensure that programs work. The Cancun Agreements do just that while providing guidelines to balance the interests of indigenous peoples with the needs for development in poor countries.
I want to commend Todd Stern and the U.S. negotiating team for the leadership, dedication and spirit of compromise they showed these past two weeks in helping to formulate and broker these agreements. At the end of the day an international system for reducing emissions from deforestation and protecting our global forest resources is critical to U.S. interests.
REDD strengthens U.S. national security by reducing international instability, helps alleviate global poverty, and conserves priceless biodiversity. This agreement shows that developing countries are taking action on climate change, and that the U.S. stands ready to help them. But we also need stronger action to succeed. As the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests argues, to have a chance at holding temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels we must cut deforestation globally by half by 2020. This will require renewed leadership next year in Durban, South Africa and beyond. “
Here are more details on the Cancun Agreements from CAP’s Richard Caperton:
For the last two weeks, negotiators in Cancun, Mexico, have been hammering out details of the tools that will help us reach the greenhouse gas reduction commitments pledged in Copenhagen. The Cancun Agreements alone will not solve climate change, nor will the Copenhagen Accord, but they have built a process to get the world moving toward agreement on how to stop climate change. Andrew Light has the story on the negotiations, and the future of the UNFCCC and the Copenhagen Accord.
The 33-page Cancun Agreements represent the input of nearly 200 countries over the last year. All of this input is invaluable, and all of the issues raised are incredibly important, but digging deep into every issue would be virtually impossible for any one country (not to mention one blog post).
The United States was primarily focused on issues of forestry, finance, and monitoring of reductions. The following is a description of these issues, and why the outcomes are important.
Across the world, there are as many greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation each year as there are from transportation. The Cancun Agreement builds an international system to reduce deforestation, an important development after developed countries pledged billions of dollars in financial support to fight deforestation last year in Copenhagen. This issue is commonly referred to as “REDD,” for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”
Even though reducing emissions from deforestation is one of the easiest ways to start addressing climate change, implementing global deforestation programs is not without controversy. For example, developing countries have legitimate development needs that sometimes conflict with forest preservation, and indigenous peoples in developing countries have unique relationships with forests that must also be considered.
Ultimately, the Cancun Agreement creates a path forward for more permanent funding of forest protection efforts. It specifically allows for market-based mechanisms, such as letting reduced deforestation count as an offset in a cap-and-trade system. It also specifically recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples.
When negotiators meet next year, they will need to add more substance to the agreement, including establishing a global market for reducing deforestation that builds on the principles agreed to in Cancun.
Last year in Copenhagen, developed countries committed to mobilizing $100 billion annually in financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, starting in 2020. The Cancun agreement builds a structure for a “Green Climate Fund,” which will manage this very large amount of money.
The most important issue in designing the fund is giving operational control of it to a body with significant financial expertise, and identifying a financial caretaker for the fund that has the institutional capability to handle hundreds of billions of dollars. The agreement includes the latter of these goals, but the former is less certain.
Reports are that the US insisted on making the World Bank the “trustee” of the fund. The agreement specifies the role of the trustee, including managing the financial assets of the fund, maintaining appropriate financial records, and preparing financial statements. Naming the World Bank the initial trustee ensures that a skilled financial leader will manage the fund.
Unfortunately, the agreement also states that the fund is “accountable to and functions under the guidance of the Conference of the Parties,” and establishes it as an “operating entity” of the UNFCCC. The UNFCCC process has not demonstrated an ability to work quickly or nimbly, nor does the UNFCCC has any internal capacity for overseeing an extremely large financial fund. We have to hope that the UNFCCC exercises a minimal level of day-to-day control over the fund, and instead leaves as much management as possible to the trustee.
Moving forward, the next step in building the Green Climate Fund is identifying sources for the $100 billion commitment. Formal discussions on this topic started in Cancun, where a proposal to put a price on the carbon emissions from international transport and shipping was included in early drafts. Some developed countries, including the US, opposed this idea because of legal concerns, but it should be back on the table in South Africa. Indeed, every single source of finance that the UN High Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing identified in their final report should be part of the negotiation in South Africa. Now that the Green Climate Fund has been built, it’s time to think about how to put money into it.
Underlying the entire Cancun Compromise is the issue of making sure that countries are actually doing what they commit to do. In the parlance of climate negotiations, this is known as “measurement, reporting, and verification.”
There are two significant tensions in building a system for monitoring. First, the system needs to be sufficiently uniform to make comparisons between countries meaningful, but also needs to recognize the significant differences among countries. Second, the system needs to be strong enough to be meaningful, but there’s also broad agreement that monitoring shouldn’t be punitive. The Cancun agreement strikes a balance on both of these tensions, representing significant compromise from all negotiators.
Both developed and developing countries are charged with creating systems for measurement of emissions reductions. In developing countries, though, only reductions that are supported by international efforts (such as reductions that are financed by the Green Climate Fund) are subject to international measurement and verification.
There are different mechanisms for ensuring the integrity of the measurement processes in developed and developing countries. Developing countries are subject to international consultation and analysis of their reduction efforts, but only in ways that are “non-intrusive, non-punitive, and respectful of national sovereignty.” Developed countries, on the other hand, are to jointly establish a process for international review of their emissions reductions, but are not subject to the same international consultation and analysis process. The fact that the process for developed countries does not allow for the same level of outside review is a significant flaw in the Cancun agreement, but is hopefully offset by outside involvement in the design of measurement systems.
Now that the structures for building measurement systems are in place, it’s time for countries to move forward and start to determine exactly how reductions will be counted and monitored.
Building systems as a way of building agreement
Clearly, climate change will not be stopped because of today’s agreement in Cancun. But, this agreement puts the systems and structures in place that will eventually contribute to stopping climate change. For too long, the world has believed that the only way to deal with the effects of greenhouse gases is to have an agreement in which every country commits to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, even though this strategy has been ineffective. What happened over the last two weeks in Cancun takes the world down a new path, in which we build the framework for actually reducing harmful carbon dioxide pollution first, and then commit to legally-binding quantitative reductions in the future.
This meeting is a significant achievement for the United States’ negotiating team. Because of the Senate’s inability to pass a comprehensive climate bill, the US team came into this meeting knowing that they would be unable to commit to an emissions reduction target beyond the Copenhagen agreement. They had to instead spend much of the meeting convincing other countries that state actions, Environmental Protection Agency actions, and clean energy incentives would help the US meet its Copenhagen commitment. Without the ability to credibly commit to new reductions, and without legislative backing for any commitment, the US had very little to offer in negotiations.
Yet, the US successfully led efforts to craft an agreement that lays the groundwork for making new commitments in the future. For example, since the US can not make large-scale contributions to a climate fund right now, the negotiators focused on setting up a fund that the US will be able to contribute to in the future. They did the same thing with forestry and verification issues.
Many observers will say that the Cancun agreement simply punted real decisions to next year’s meeting in Durban, South Africa. This is only partly true. The fight against climate change was never going to be won in Cancun, and it will not be won next year in South Africa, not will it be won in 2012 or 2013. The fight against climate change will be won over the next several decades, and it will involve the commitment of every nation of the world. The Cancun agreement is an important step in designing a system that will work for many years, and will involve nearly 200 countries. This is no small feat.
Looking forward, countries now have to bring actions to the systems they’ve designed. With the structure of a climate fund decided, the next step is figuring out how the fund will operate, and where its money will come from. With the rules for monitoring emissions reductions in place, the next step is to move forward with deciding how much emissions need to be reduced to make the world safe for future generations.
The Cancun agreement contains some of what is needed to stop climate change. The world needs to build on this agreement next year.
I’m a “glass is one-fifth full too bad we’re in a Dustbowlification driven firestorm” guy. How about you?