Cancun Climate Conference: Talking Points

In the opening speech for the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, which started November 29 and runs through December 10, Mexican President Felipe Calderón cited last year’s hurricane in Mexico, this year’s floods in Pakistan, and fires in Russia as examples of natural disasters brought about by climate change and affecting the poorest world citizens, according to a conference press release.

Issues on the agenda, according to the release, include developing a plan for accountability for implementation of mitigation targets and the creation of a new fund to finance long-term mitigation efforts. During 2010, 37 industrialized nations and 42 developing countries submitted targets and voluntary actions to reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions. “These mitigation promises need to be formalised as a matter of urgency,” said the release.

Todd Stern, the chief American climate change negotiator, arrived at the event on Friday, according to the Green blog of the New York Times, and “said quite emphatically that he was not interested in some sort of face-saving partial deal that makes progress on some questions but kicks the more difficult problems down the road.”

As the Times reporter, John Broder, notes, “this is not a new stance for the United States, but it sets a very high bar for a meeting from which little concrete progress is expected. If all of the 190 nations attending the talks have to agree on a package that deals with all of these issues — and each one has a long, complicated and emotional history — then it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to emerge at the end of the conference with anything that looks like success.”

Michael Levi, an energy economist at the US Council on Foreign Relations, told the BBC that “the reason the private sector isn’t doing as much as they need to is because the national incentives aren’t in place for them to do that.” The BBC noted that “firms such as Pepsi, Tesco’s and Nike have joined partnerships to monitor and, ideally, reduce their emissions,” because “doing this often saves companies like Tesco money — so they’re keen to do more.”

Some 15,000 people, including government delegates and representatives from business, industry, environmental organizations, and research institutions, are scheduled to attend the gathering.

Look for action on December 10, says the Times: “Although delegates have been arriving in Cancún this week, the negotiations do not get started in earnest until next week. If the past is any guide, nothing will be settled until the final hours of the final day, next Friday — if then.”