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Cancun: a well spun story?

Written by Neil Bird


The general reaction to the just completed UNFCCC Cancun Conference of the Parties (COP)  meeting was that it was a great deal more successful than its predecessor in Copenhagen a year ago.  However, despite the positive conference management in Mexico, do the final agreements on long-term cooperative action justify such a positive assessment?  In developmental terms, the answer is probably not – or at least not yet.  Too much reliance continues to be placed on further planning exercises, which at the national level can be perceived as an alternative to action.  

A major disappointment lies in the minimal advance with regard to Annex I (most developed) country targets to reduce their emissions, which need to be the major global response to climate change.  Ultimately, without ambitious emissions reductions the mean global temperature will continue its inexorable rise, damaging the developmental potential of many poor countries.

On adaptation to the effects of climate change, some new support was agreed with the announcement of the ‘Cancun Adaptation Framework’.  What this seems to consist of is a new international advisory committee on adaptation, a new UNFCCC supported work programme on risk, and support for more national planning in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  One might ask what assessment has been made of the last major international initiative for LDCs – the national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) – before embarking on yet another exercise of this nature.

On support for mitigation to reduce emissions in developing countries, the proposed international registry is a positive development that plans to help match developing country mitigation needs with developed country finance.  This is to be welcomed, not only for the support in securing greater funding for developing countries, but also as a means of improving the transparency of the international mitigation finance flows.

On finance for climate change responses more generally, and despite all the fanfare over a new global fund to channel climate finance to developing countries, the commitment to establish a Green Climate Fund contained in the final COP communiqué is the barest of outlines.  There will be much to play for over the next 12 months on defining this new global vertical fund. As commented by Simon Maxwell in his recent blog on OpenDemocracy, there is a lot of politics in climate finance.

On forestry, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) debate continues to remain stuck in planning mode – what is the next step proposed? More national planning!  This has become a proxy for action, and does not augur well for progress soon, particularly as the standard of such national planning processes to date leaves much to be desired in terms of securing better delivery on the ground.

Finally, on technology transfer of practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, some progress can be found in the planned establishment of a Technology Executive Committee and a climate technology centre and network.  All very well and helpful – if it leads to better outcomes. 

Perhaps this is the question that remains hanging after Cancun: just what will be the impact of all the proposed measures?  With the international development community now much concerned over the impacts of its actions, the climate change community needs to learn from this and sharpen its focus on how best to deploy limited international resources to secure the greatest impact.  With its focus on climate finance, ODI will continue to track the financial flows and, as raised by Jessica Brown in her recent blog on Reuters Alertnet, analyse the effectiveness of this support for national actions.  Only then can the international community claim success in assisting vulnerable countries to respond to the many challenges raised by climate change.