What Cancun didn’t achieve

What Cancun didn’t achieve

As dust settles on the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held recently in Cancun, the takeaways from the summit have become the subject of an engaging debate. That the Cancun conference was able to deliver a set of agreements has prompted many commentators to hail this as a success of multilateralism. This accolade seems to have been influenced by the fact that, in the recent past, there have been few occasions when outcomes of multilateral negotiations have been received with as much applause as in Cancun.

So much for the form, the content of the Cancun agreements is at best a mixed bag. While the agreements have underlined the commitments of the world community to address the scourge of global warming, there are nuanced changes in the approach, reflected in the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) being adopted as the blue print for future implementation of UNFCCC. And, according to some commentators, the Kyoto Protocol, till now the only mechanism for effecting cuts in carbon dioxide emissions in the developed world (sans the US, which never ratified it), may be on its way out.

In broad terms, LCA is set on the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities" of the contracting parties of UNFCCC. These principles, the most distinctive feature of the UN framework, require advanced nations to bear the burden of adjustment for ushering in a low-carbon economy. The developed countries are required to vacate some “carbon space" in the atmosphere, which would be needed by the developing countries to pursue their development objectives. This re-calibration of carbon dioxide emissions is imperative for ensuring that the increase in earth’s temperature is kept within bounds, thus averting the risk to future generations arising from global warming. At the same time, developing countries would be able to undertake adaptation and mitigation actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions if developed countries provided them with the financial resources and effect transfer of technology.

Although LCA does not allude to developing countries making firm commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the mitigation actions they would take would be subjected to “measurement, reporting and verification" (MRV) in keeping with the guidelines to be developed under the convention. MRV would be for both internationally and nationally supported mitigation actions undertaken by parties to UNFCCC, including developing countries. Additionally, a process for international consultations and analysis (ICA) has been put in place, aimed at increasing “transparency of mitigation actions and their effects, through analysis by technical experts in consultation with the Party concerned..."

Several commentators have interpreted MRV and ICA, mechanisms meant for developing countries, as ones that would deviate from the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities" on two counts. First, their implementation would require developing countries to establish reporting systems that are not only extensive, but can also stand up to scrutiny. A network of institutions may be required in order that this reporting system is effective.

Second, it has been pointed out that MRV and ICA are to be implemented by developing countries even as LCA remains stuck over commitments to financial resources or technology transfer made by developed countries. As regards the financial resources, the pledges made in the Copenhagen accord have been repeated. Thus, developed countries have made commitments “to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching $30 billion for the period 2010-2012". In addition to this fund for short-term exigencies, the accord also included a long-term commitment by developed countries to provide, through a multi-stakeholder process, $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

Technology transfer has been one of the most contested issues in the climate change negotiations, primarily because access to climate-friendly technologies is conditioned by the intellectual property rights (IPRs) used to protect such technologies. IPRs’ role in restricting access to climate-friendly technologies has figured prominently in UNFCCC negotiations. Its significance is such that the Expert Group on Technology Transfer, established in 2001 with the aim to inter alia advance technology transfer activities, has produced a stocktaking paper on IPRs’ role in transfers of technology. However, even before the findings of this paper were discussed, the Cancun conference took a decision to terminate the expert group and establish a technology mechanism mandated to take enhanced action on “technology development and transfer" to support mitigation and adaptation activities. What is perhaps more striking is that the mandate for the proposed technology mechanism glosses over the IPR dimension in its entirety.

The Kyoto Protocol has long been waiting to see whether its life would be extended beyond 2012— when the first phase of the protocol expires. The outcome of the Cancun conference evokes little confidence that a second phase of Kyoto will find many takers.

Biswajit Dhar is director general at Research and Information System for Developing Countries, New Delhi.

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