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Journey to Cancun, Mexico 2010: Is There Hope?

29th November 2010

By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies


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The 16th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) takes place from November 29th to December 10th in Cancun, Mexico.



Representatives from 194 countries will meet to continue negotiations on international efforts to address climate change. These talks follow the Copenhagen outcome of December 2009 that was largely seen as a disappointment, especially given the high hopes raised before the conference for a binding agreement. Nevertheless, the Copenhagen outcome was a very significant beginning. It laid bare the challenges of negotiating a climate agreement among 194 countries with such a broad range of political and economic interests, and with such diverse levels of economic development.

Post-Copenhagen, countries have continued to meet and to negotiate with the aim of progressing towards a global agreement to address climate change. These meetings included the UNFCCC’s negotiating sessions in Bonn, Germany in April and June 2010, the Major Economies’ Forum on Energy and Climate Change meetings - a compliment to the UNFCCC agreement process - and the Tianjin-China Climate Change Conference in October.


This can be seen as a good sign that there is still commitment to reach a deal among the concerned parties. These post-Copenhagen meetings have been good opportunities to take into account the lessons learnt in Copenhagen. They have been also critical in determining the direction of a possible agreement during the Cancun Summit.

Various factors will determine whether or not the Cancun talks could become a step in the right direction. One of these is increasing trust between developed and developing countries. In Copenhagen, developed countries committed to provide $30 billion in financing from 2010-2012 to aid developing countries in deploying clean energy technology, reducing deforestation emissions, and adapting to the impacts of climate change. To build trust it is critical that developed countries show in tangible ways how their pledges to “prompt start” funding are turning into real money.

It is also important to focus on tangible actions that are occurring on the ground thanks to these funds. This dual focus will establish the expectations both that real money is generated and that tangible actions are being delivered.

Understanding interests is another factor. For a legally binding treaty to be reached, there is need to understand the interests of those in business, government and other stakeholders, so that blockage from these groups can be overcome.

Cancun needs to produce an agreement on aspects of the key implementing activities to be delivered by the international agreement e.g., clean energy technology deployment, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), improving the resilience of countries to the impacts of climate change, etc. Whether or not every aspect of these issues will be resolved, it is possible to make significant progress on each of these issues at Cancun. While there are aspects of these that are still controversial, it is possible to agree in Cancun on key elements that enable tangible action to take place. Progress on these fronts is essential to prove to countries and the general public that the UNFCCC can move forward and make a real difference in the efforts to address the impacts of Climate Change. The notion of “nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed” must be set aside in favour of re-establishing confidence by progressively building the agreement component by component.

Echoing the words of Patricia Espinosa, Mexico`s Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Chair of the upcoming Conference, during a lecture hosted by the United Nations University on 5th July 2010, there is need for an inclusive dialogue as a key component for reaching a binding agreement in Cancun.

As the stage is set for Cancun, one may well ask what is the mood in Africa? Was Africa’s hope so dampened by the Copenhagen outcome, that Cancun appears a mirage? Are the expectations for a legally binding treaty diminishing to just a limited number of concrete deliverables (e.g. “fast-start” funding, reducing emissions from deforestation, adaptation and mitigation) or are we optimistic enough to anticipate a comprehensive legal agreement? How are we prepared in terms of what to negotiate for and how to negotiate? What will be the main obstacles to reaching agreements in the coming Conference? Finally, is the world ready to come to an agreement? If the latter will be the case and Cancun delivers a comprehensive legal agreement, it will be the perfect Christmas gift this year for both humanity and the planet.

Written by: Damaris E. Mateche, Intern, Environmental Security Programme, ISS, Nairobi


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