TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Dec10/02)
Dear friends and colleagues,
Of concern to many supporters of multilateralism
at the United Nations is a precedent that may have been set in the
With best wishes,
Geneva, 15 Dec (Martin Khor*) -- The Cancun climate conference ended early on 11 December, setting a precedent of sorts for a UN meeting and "international governance" by using World Trade Organization-style methods and processes to reach an outcome.
Throughout the two-week conference, there was a mixture of small "Green Room" meetings, "confessionals" and informal consultations conducted by pairs of Ministers and by the Presidency of the conference (Mexico), informal plenaries as transparency exercises to inform all participants on what was going on, and texts written or issued by facilitators and eventually by Mexico.
[The concept of consensus decision-making came into vogue in post-war international systems at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT-1947), a provisional treaty. The Marrakesh Treaty for the WTO (concluded in 1994 and came into being in 1995), which mandated the continuance of the GATT consensus decision-making, provided specific international treaty language for the term.
[Article IX:1 of the Marrakesh Treaty for the
WTO stipulates that "The WTO shall continue the practice of decision-making
by consensus followed by GATT 1947...". A footnote defines it as
"The body concerned shall be deemed to have decided by consensus
on a matter submitted for its consideration, if no Member, present at
the meeting, when the decision is taken, formally objects to the proposed
decision". In mandating the continuance of the consensus decision-making
The convening of a group of 40-50 delegations
mid-way through the conference was reminiscent of many past WTO Ministerial
meetings, where the practice is dubbed the "Green Room". This
was accompanied by the selection of pairs of Ministers to co-facilitate
consultations on particular issues, which is what was done at the WTO
As at the WTO meetings, the co-facilitating Ministers
at the climate talks in Cancun were not selected by the members, but
appointed by the host country,
In various ways, the Cancun meeting was more transparent
and inclusive than the
But in one way, there was less openness in the process.
There were various rumours that the draft or parts of it were being shown to various delegations (or at least their heads) to be cleared or amended. Up to now, it is not known which countries or persons did the drafting or the overall piecing together of the final text.
Despite the highly unorthodox methods, as far
as the UN processes and meetings are concerned, the final texts found
general agreement with delegations except for
One reason perhaps was the involvement of several
Ministers who were concerned more with the general political aspects,
rather than the nitty-gritty content of the many issues. The political
concern was to avoid the failure of another climate conference, following
The acceptance of an inadequate text was seen
by many as the price to pay for getting a result at
The Mexican hosts also decided on a risky all-or-nothing approach, in which it was not possible to get results in one area unless there were results in all other areas. In a way, this was forced on them by the strategy adopted by some developed countries.
In particular, the United States made it clear from the start that meeting the very modest demands of developing countries (to establish a new climate fund, a technology mechanism and an adaptation committee) would require acceptance of the US demands of anchoring the pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord into the Convention, and getting a strong system of MRV (measuring, reporting, verifying) and of ICA (international consultation and analysis) of mitigation actions of developing countries.
Although most delegates were either relieved or
glad that multilateralism had been revived at
Moreover, there was serious concern that from a climate-environmental point of view, the texts fell far short, or had even gone backwards, in terms of controlling the Greenhouse Gas emissions that cause climate change.
One senior negotiator of a developing country
summed up his feelings, as he was leaving
The Cancun conference suffered an early blow from
The developing countries had made it their main
demand, that the figures for the Kyoto Protocol's second period be finalised
in Cancun, or at least that a clear road map be drawn up for the finalisation
in 2011. However, this goal was rudely swept aside by
The final text failed to ensure the survival of
the Protocol, though it sets some terms of reference for continuing
the talks next year. The
In the Kyoto Protocol (KP) system agreed to for the second period, a top-down aggregate reduction figure based on what science requires (taken to be the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report's 25-40%, and taken by developing countries to be a more ambitious 40-50%) would first be agreed on, and then developed countries would have to make their commitments (comparable with one another) and these would have to add up to the aggregate.
In the voluntary pledge system, there would not be an agreed prior aggregate figure, and no system of ensuring comparability of efforts or that the sum of pledges is ambitious enough to meet the scientific requirement.
But these are overall such poor targets that a recent UN Environment Programme report warned that the developed countries by 2020 may decrease their emissions by only a little (16%) in the best scenario, or even increase their level (by 6%) in a bad scenario. The world would be on track for temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees by century's end, which would be catastrophic.
The text urges developed countries to raise their mitigation targets, and makes an indirect reference to the 25-40% aggregate emission-reduction figure, and thus points to a process of taking the pledges so far made as only an initial starting point. This is weaker than the KP's binding system, and the AWG-LCA's obligation for non-KP developed countries to do a comparable effort.
Even as it prepared the ground for the "great
escape" of developed countries from their commitments, the
They are now obliged to put forward their plans and targets for climate mitigation, which are to be compiled in a document and later in registries.
It is a first step in a plan by developed countries (they have been quite open about it) to get developing countries to put their mitigation targets as commitments in national schedules, similar to the tariff schedules in the World Trade Organisation.
These reports are to be subjected to detailed
scrutiny by other countries and by international experts. The Cancun
text in fact gives a lot of space to the details of these MRV and
These are all new obligations, and a great deal
of time was spent in Cancun by the developed countries (especially the
Many developing-country officials were increasingly
In fact, the developing countries made a lot of
concessions and sacrifices in
Cancun may be remembered in future as the place where the UNFCCC's climate regime was changed significantly, with developed countries being treated more and more leniently, reaching a level like that of developing countries, while the developing countries are asked to increase their obligations to be more and more like developed countries.
The ground is being prepared for such a new system,
which could then replace the Kyoto Protocol.
However, the text mentions that the developed countries agreed to mobilise $100 billion by 2020, with conditions of appropriate mitigation and transparency by developing countries. It is unclear how much of this will be from the public or private sectors, or from grants versus loans and investments.
A committee is mandated to design various aspects
of the fund. However, it was agreed beforehand that the initial trustee
of the fund will be the World Bank, a key demand of the
A technology mechanism was also set up under the UNFCCC, with a policy-making committee, and a centre.
The Cancun conference was also marked by a questionable
method of work, quite similar to the WTO but not used in the United
Nations, in which the host country,
The final document was produced not through the usual process of negotiations among delegations, but compiled by the Mexicans as the Chair of the meeting, and given to the delegates for only a few hours to consider, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis (no amendments are allowed).
At the final plenary,
The Mexican way of organising the writing and
later the adoption of the
The importation of WTO-style methods may in the immediate period lead to the "efficiency" of producing an outcome, but also carries the risk of conferences collapsing in disarray (as has happened in several WTO ministerial meetings) and in biases in the text, which usually have been in favour of developed countries.
When the dust settles after the Cancun conference, a careful analysis will find that its text may have given the multilateral climate system a shot in the arm and positive feelings among most participants because there was something to take home, but that it also failed to save the planet from climate change and helped pass the burden of climate mitigation onto developing countries.
Many delegates and observers, however, were looking positively to the future work. From this low base level of ambition in climate terms, there is much work to be done in 2011 to raise the level of ambition in both environmental and development terms, save and to reorientate the international system of cooperation to address the climate crisis.
(* Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre.) +