Sunday, December 12, 2010

The "Cancun Agreements"

The roving global cocktail party known as the Conference of the Parties to the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has declared success at the end of two weeks of meetings in Cancun, Mexico. The UNFCCC has issued a press release (here) touting all of the achievements of the conference. There's no particular reason to read it, however, as it's just more of the same: more payments from rich countries to poor ones for not cutting down trees; promises of technology transfers from rich countries to poor ones; yet another attempt to create and finance a "Green Climate Fund" to transfer yet more money from rich countries to poor ones. Most importantly, the parties made no progress on realistic and significant targets for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

I don't see much progress from the last year's Copenhagen Accords, which were widely perceived as a failure. I suppose the parties are claiming that this year's conference is, relatively speaking, a success because everyone (Bolivia excepted) played nicely together. To my mind, that is not an appropriate  measure of success.

Perhaps it is time to bifurcate the policy process. The UN process seems primarily structured to move dollars from north to south, from developed to less-developed countries. That is a potentially useful mechanism for dealing with adaptation-related issues; but it gets us nowhere on mitigation, which realistically implicates the interests of fewer than a dozen major emitting countries. President Bush may have been correct (no kidding) when he argued that mitigation negotiations should be removed from the UN process in favor of smaller-scale, direct, multi-lateral negotiations among the major emitting countries. A new "club" of major emitting countries should be established to facilitate those negotiations.

Finally, the best thing about the end of the UNFCCC conference in Cancun is that I will know longer receive several dozen e-mails each day inviting me to side-events sponsored by the myriad non-governmental organizations from around the globe who seem to believe that greater public participation in the treaty-writing process will lead to better treaties (evidence to the contrary from California's referendum process notwithstanding). In my view, the interests of NGOs might be better served if they kept their distance from the negotiations and criticized the roving global cocktail party, instead of participating actively in it.

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