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The first day

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This is the first update from the Cancun climate change talks which started today. Set on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, in-between mega hotels, remainders of mangrove forests which fifty years ago were still huge, and a calm sea, the scenery is markedly different to last year’s. However, our local colleagues warn us that now is the beginning of the hurricane season: will we experience hurricanes in the climate negotiations as well?  

During the last two days, just over twenty of us who are already in Cancun have finalised our tactical plan for the meeting. We know of course that no major treaty will be concluded here – the disruption after Copenhagen was too big for a fast recovery. But Parties could and should advance on several concrete issues where real progress can also hit through and influence action on the ground.  

It may just be the fact that the sun is shining, the professional attitude of the Mexican Presidency of the COP, or the kind way our WWF Mexico colleagues have prepared our work space for us, in any case determination has taken hold of the team. The COP itself will pose some challenges, and this starts with logistics: this time, maybe drawing on lessons from last year, the hotel complex where the negotiations take place and the building reserved for civil society and side events are in separate places, 5 km from each other. Therefore busses are for ever present – taking us from the hotel to the entrance in the civil society building, where you change into another bus to go on to the negotiations complex. We’ll be a lot on busses these two weeks!

The opening of the talks this morning started off by setting the right tone. Mexico’s President Calderon stressed the need to keep the UN talks transparent, IPCC Chairman Pachauri demonstrated once more the scientific basis for urgent action while Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire (and WWF partner), made the business case. The Mexican Environment Minister who holds the Presidency of the COP painted the picture of constructive talks without hype but with a clear focus on action and delivery.

We were worried that in the following opening of the two tracks of negotiations, the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, splits last seen in Copenhagen would immediately re-open; but so far these potential conflicts have not materialized. On the contrary, Party statements showed considerable restraint and some goodwill.

In a press conference, US delegation lead Todd Stern confirmed positions the US administration had agreed to a year ago under the Copenhagen Accord – 17% emission reductions by 2020, compared to 2005, and contributions to 30 bn fast start finance. No back tracking despite a very difficult domestic position. We hope this will hold once the tricky negotiations on mitigation and measuring, reporting and verification start in earnest.

In the first round of discussions on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, many mostly developing countries supported its continuation in a second commitment period (as foreseen by the current Protocol). The EU also came in positively, a somewhat renewed commitment of this year, which already in the run-up to Cancun had received positive responses from developing countries. We do, however, know that behind the scenes the lobbyists of a number of ‘Kyoto-hostile’ countries will be trying to block progress, namely Russia, Japan, and Canada.

In the negotiation track under the Convention, the most recent memories are those from Tianjin in October, where angry exchanges especially between China and the US blocked any significant progress. So far this has not materialized – let’s hope this lasts. The least constructive development would be unnecessary conflict games between parties that divert attention from what really should happen in Cancun. 

In our discussions with governments directly, we can feel a lot of nervousness around the politically most critical issues – mitigation, MRV, and the eventual legal form of the agreement will not be resolved by sweeping them under the carpet. These three issues, linked to eachother, will prove to be the most difficult challenge for Cancun. Chair and Mexican Presidency are prioritising consultations around those explosive issues – so that it will be possible to table negotiation text.

Tomorrow the real negotiations start – it will be interesting to see more detailed government positions emerge on what are the controversial issues.

Martin Hiller
Head, communications and campaigns
Climate and Energy Initiative
WWF International

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