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After two weeks of negotiations, countries - and the process - emerge from Cancun with progress, transparency and a path forward on addressing climate change

Alvin Lin

Posted December 11, 2010 in Solving Global Warming

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At about 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning, after two weeks of negotiations with often quite divergent views, the parties at the Cancun climate conference emerged from the process with important agreements on how to move forward together to address climate change.  In a complex negotiation involving 194 country parties, the Cancun agreements managed to meet the concerns of a wide swath of countries and breathe new life into the international effort to address climate change.  Both the largest emitters—the United States, EU, Japan, China, India, Brazil—and the smallest and most vulnerable countries including the Maldives, Bangladesh and Lesotho voiced their support for the agreements.

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Delegates in the plenary room offer a standing ovation to acknowledge the contribution of COP President Patricia Espinosa in creating an open and transparent process for the parties to reach agreement.

Even before the start of the informal plenary last night to air countries’ views, the audience of delegates and civil society offered sustained rounds of applause for the texts that the President of the conference, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, provided for the parties (the two outcomes were agreements on Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and further commitments to the Kyoto Protocol) in an extraordinary show of support.  The applause reflected the overwhelming recognition that the agreements represented a careful balance that captured the diverse views of all the parties to some degree, and create important institutions and mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate change, addressing deforestation, and providing financial, technological and capacity building support to developing countries to help them to address climate change.

Time and again, country representatives praised the open, transparent and inclusive manner by which the agreements were reached.  No country achieved all that it wanted, but countries recognized the importance of compromise and flexibility in the talks and expressed broad support for the agreements as an important building block for future progress.  The warmth and spirit in the room restored confidence in multilateralism and the ability of countries to come together to address climate change.

The new Cancun agreement on long term cooperative action builds on the commitments that countries made last year in the Copenhagen Accord and lays the building blocks for a way forward next year: 

  • Countries recognized the need to take action to hold the increase in global average temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and to review the adequacy of this target and consider strengthening it by 2015. 
  • The agreement creates important institutions such as a Green Climate Fund (as my colleague Heather Allen blogged on), a Technology Executive Panel, a Climate Technology Centre and Network, and an Adaptation Committee, all of which are aimed at increasing the speed and scale of efforts to help countries deploy technologies and solutions to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. 
  • Developed countries reaffirmed their commitment to fast start funding of $30 billion for 2010-12 and long term finance of $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries, in particularly those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, to mitigate their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
  • Both developed and developing countries will include their mitigation commitments and actions in information documents associated with the Cancun decision.
  • On deforestation, the agreement sets out strong principles and a framework for helping developing countries to scale up and receive support for their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation.

Building a foundation for increased transparency and trust

The transparency of the negotiation process was mirrored by strengthened commitments to improve reporting on and transparency of greenhouse gas emissions and countries’ actions to address climate change.  Developed countries agreed to prepare annual greenhouse gas inventories as well as biennial progress reports on their progress in achieving emissions reductions, their projected emissions, and the financial, technological and capacity building support they have provided to developing countries.  They are to enhance their reporting in their national communications, including using common reporting formats and methodologies for finance, in order to ensure that the information provided is complete, comparable, transparent and accurate.  Developed country emissions and removals related to their emission reduction targets will be subject to an international assessment process with a view to promoting comparability and building confidence.

Developing countries will also enhance reporting of their national communications and inventories, with flexibility provided for least developed countries and small island states.  They will submit national communications every four years and biennial update reports with updates of greenhouse gas inventories and information on mitigation actions, needs and support received.  A registry will be created to match developing country actions seeking support with developed country financing and support.

On the issue of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) and international consultations and analysis (ICA) of developing country efforts, there are provisions that strengthen reporting in a facilitative and constructive way.  Both supported and non-supported mitigation actions by developing countries will be monitored, reported and verified domestically, and guidelines will be developed for the MRV of both supported and non-supported mitigation actions. 

Developing country biennial reports will undergo an ICA process that is non-intrusive, non-punitive and respectful of national sovereignty.  The ICA is intended to increase transparency of mitigation actions, and will provide for analysis by technical experts and a facilitative sharing of views.  The information to be considered includes mitigation actions and greenhouse gas inventories, including a description and analysis of methodologies and assumptions used, and progress in implementation and information on domestic MRV and support received.  Discussions about the appropriateness of domestic policies and measures are not part of the process.

All in all, the Cancun agreement reached today sets a foundation for building institutions and frameworks for collective action among countries and the global community that can scale up the solutions that we need to address the challenge of global climate change. As Minister Espinosa stated, the agreement is not an end, but a beginning.  And as Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam of the Maldives implored the audience in the plenary: There is no need to waste more time—it’s time to move on to the next stage.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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