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Gearing up for Cancun Climate Talks: reports from Tiajin negotiations mixed

UN preparatory climate talks in Tiajin, China for the next major round of climate negotiations in  Cancun (November 29 to December 10), recently came to end.

What happened? Well, it depends on who you ask.

According to the mainstream media, it’s a mixed bag.

The fact that the talks didn’t completely breakdown – something that is still possible, particularly if the Copenhagen ‘Accord’ or a similar backroom deal gets pushed in Cancun – is considered positive by some.

There is a lot of talk about the tension between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest emitters, both blaming each other for a lack of progress.

At the crux of this is the question of responsibility for emission reductions – how much, how fast? –

This is a debate that speaks to a broader dynamic dividing Global North and South countries under the UNFCCC negotiation process.

Some are suggesting a move on the part of certain countries away from the 194-country UN process to smaller groups of select countries.

As reported by Reuters, “Some experts say the talks could shift from the United Nations to other groups, such as the G20 which includes all big emitters — China, the United States, the European Union, Russia and India. “This is one of the things that could happen as there has been frustration for some time now over the bureaucratic nature of the U.N. process,” said Mark Lewis, head of carbon analysis at Deutsche Bank.””

In contrast, some paint a picture of talks moving forward, “This week has got us closer to a structured set of decisions that can be agreed in Cancún,” said Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a recent UK Guardian article.

“I understand there is disappointment with the multilateral process but this issue is not easy. This is the greatest societal and economic transformation that the world has ever seen.”

Also reported by the Guardian, the EU and several other parties to the Kyoto Protocol have indicated they are willing to sign up (with conditions) to a second period of commitments when the first term comes to an end in 2012.

Climate finance (funds assisting with climate mitigation and adaptation measures in the Global South) is also an area that some suggest progress has been made. There are a number of proposals in the draft text moving forward to Cancun.

Mainstream media has honed in on progress related to the quick start financing and $100 billion climate financing target proposed under the Copenhagen ‘Accord.’ Looming questions remain over whether these funds will be scaled up, additional to already promised aid budgets or dependent on carbon markets.

From 194 to 20?

While the UNFCCC process has its flaws (yes, reaching consensus can be difficult at best and yes, we’ve seen little progress so far) moving international climate action into the realm of the self-selected, exclusive G8 or G20 is certainly not the answer. We know how much progress was made by these bodies that exclude the representation of 3 or 4 billion at the recent June meetings in Huntsville and Toronto.

It is no small irony that this potential move away from the UN would put international climate action in the hands of the countries most responsible for the historic emissions causing the current crisis – countries that by and large continue to promote weak proposals under the UNFCCC – while excluding many being hit first and hardest by climate impacts in the Global South that have contributed least to it’s causes and demanding stronger action on the part of the Global North.

For more information on the Council of Canadians take on the G8 and G20, refer here.

People’s Agreement conclusions still included in the text

The good news is that text from the People’s Agreement that emerged from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change Mother Earth rights has remained in negotiation text.

This was the focus of an open letter prepared by Climate Justice Now! network which the Council of Canadians signed.

In a recent press release, the Bolivian government reports that an intense debate took place in the last plenary panel due to the appearance of texts from facilitators of some groups that had not been previously discussed, “It was made clear, though, that the entire negotiating text that emerged from Bonn, as well as the advances made in Tianjin, will continue to serve as the base for negotiations in Cancun.”

The Bolivian government also warns of difficult times ahead, “The situation ahead of Cancun is extremely worrying. There exists the very real danger that a text could be imposed at the last minute that was not negotiated and agreed upon by all parties. Similarly, there is the risk that the treatment of substantive themes such as emissions reductions and the maintenance of the Kyoto Protocol could be postponed until South Africa or beyond.

There is also enormous pressure by developed countries to give the green light to new carbon market mechanisms, particularly in relation to forests. In this context, the only way to advance toward a satisfactory result is by strengthening the organization and mobilization of social movements, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, women, intellectuals, artists, youth and the people as a whole behind the banner of the “People’s Agreement” of Cochabamba.”

Where is Canada?

Backing the Copenhagen ‘Accord,’ of course. “Canada welcomes all input into the UNFCCC process; however, Canada remains committed to the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for a new global climate change regime,” says Henry Lau, a representative of Environment Canada, as reported recently in The Dominion.

This is not terribly surprising. The Copenhagen ‘Accord,’ a backroom deal pushed forward by a handful of countries in Copenhagen, does not require any mandatory emission reduction targets.

This is good for the Harper government which is sticking to a target that amounts to a 3% rise above 1990 emissions levels by 2020. Compare this to the 25% required by Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act that passed the House of Commons but is languishing in the Senate as a result of Conservative feet dragging, and the 40 to 50% cuts called for by the majority of global South countries and in the Cochabamba People’s Agreement.

Further shame inducing is the question of whether Canada even has the plans in place to meet these modest targets. Meanwhile climate scientists are being muzzled and Canada is failing to keep up to investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  As reported by the Ottawa Citizen, records kept by the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying reveal; “…lobbyists for Canadian industry, particularly those representing the country’s leading chief executives and the oil sector – top the list of those who got the most access to Prime minister Stephen Harper over the last two years… By comparison, groups lobbying on issues such as health care and the environment barely got a foot in the door – even though the state of medicare and climate change have been major public policy issues.”

Council of Canadians plans for Cancun

We are gearing up for the upcoming UN negotiations in Cancun. We will have a team on the ground reporting-backing on events both in the official negotiation process – this includes tracking and responding to Canadian government participation – and participating in the alternatives forums.

We will be launching a book on Mother Earth Rights, hosting a workshop on the need to ‘Leave it in the Ground’ in the Arctic (no offshore drilling!), participating in an action exposing the tar sands and large street mobilizations as well as helping to coordinate a roundtable on holding referendums and popular consultas on climate change – one of the calls emerging from the Cochabamba conference.

In Canada we are working with community activists and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, KAIROS and the Indigenous Environmental Network to mobilize People’s Assemblies on Climate Justice during the Cancun negotiations. The media is already reporting that countries are unlikely to reach a legally binding agreement in Cancun on desperately needed climate change measures. We can’t wait any longer for governments to take action – it’s the collective voice of people that will make climate justice a reality. Find out more about People’s Assemblies on Climate Justice, and how to get involved, here.