Cancun 2010: The phoenix that will rise from the ashes of Copenhagen?

20 Oct

Written By: Jon Ehrenfeld, Senior Correspondent

Editor: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall, Deputy Director PISA

The COP-16 conference, slated for November 29th in Cancun, Mexico, seems to be raising fewer hopes than the last round, likely because of the widely publicized and underwhelming results of COP-15. Policy makers on both sides of the Pacific can reasonably ask what can be expect from this next round of negotiations?  Will we see progressive action from the bloc of Asian nations that allied themselves with China in Copenhagen? Or have events in the last year given rise to a new approach to climate negotiations?

Even without the unfortunate example of the last round of UNFCCC meetings, there are warning signs aplenty that delegates at Cancun could come away with a feeling of déjà vu. Some of the largest polluting nations are already trying to backpedal from previously made commitments and downplay expectations. Todd Stern, President Obama’s chief climate negotiator, has already stressed the importance of not letting “expectations far outstrip what can be done.”  The need for leadership on setting realistic carbon reductions, fixing a carbon price, and making a financial commitment to the proposed UN Adaptation fund for countries most in need, Bangladesh for example, is paramount.

In spite of these obstacles, the possibility of real progress at Cancun is not entirely absent. At a recent ASEM meeting (Asia-Europe meeting), Asian nations not only stressed the importance of emerging from the COP-16 with a binding decision markets. In a show of regional leadership, Singaporean minister Lim Hwee Hua even spoke of increasing reduction commitments, “as industries and citizens grow more accustomed to carbon constraints and as technology enables us to do more.” ASEAN as well has gone on record stressing the need for a legally binding agreement as a key step for moving forward.

In contrast to the gloom and doom predications being trumpeted by media and policymakers alike, Cancun may offer ASEAN countries the opportunity to press for real change.   Showing leadership in carbon reductions and pressing for set carbon pricing are two ways in which ASEAN might shift the dialogue away from US/China negotiations and move debate into concrete steps that will improve the lives of the regions most vulnerable groups.

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