Friday, December 10, 2010

Cancún climate change summit: Final day live blog

Get the latest updates from the final day of the UN talks, as 193 countries try to move forward a deal tackling climate change

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COP16 Cancun : A woman looks at a globe model in the climate village
Cancún climate change summit: A woman looks at a globe model in the climate village during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-16). Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

3.23pm: John Ashe, who is chairing talks on the future of the Kyoto protocol, tells Reuters it is "hard to say" whether there will be progress today, despite last minute efforts by Mexico:

At least there's confidence that she [Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa] could put something for them [governments] to consider. This was not the case in Copenhagen. If there's one thing that we've learned in Cancun is that trust has been restored

Overall, the mood music coming out of Cancún is pretty hard to interpret. The general consensus, put forward by Chris Huhne yesterday, seems to be that they're on a knife-edge and could go either way, though Russia's unequivocal statement last night opposing an extension of the Kyoto protocol has certainly cast a cloud on today's talks.

3.02pm: Here's some good video footage of yesterday's speeches by ministers at the summit, including Japan on its Kyoto protocol stance, Saudi Arabia's oil minister saying the outcome must not affect petroleum products (no big surprise there), as well as statements from Russia, Spain, Canada and more.

Link to this video

Australia's climate minister explicitly drew the link between today's result and the future of the UN talks:

it is imperative for the credibiltity of this process [at the UNFCCC negotiations] that we are able to make progress here at this conference.

Todd Stern, the US lead negotiator, had little to offer beyond promises that America would continue to work towards domestic policies to cut emissions. But prospects don't look too bright there - after the US mid-term elections, our US correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg wrote that Obama's green agenda had been "crushed" due to the presence of several new Republican members of Congress who deny the existence of man-made climate change.

2.45pm: Okay, so that opening meeting has been postponed for another 50 minutes. In the meantime, the Canadian member of the Adopt a Negotiator site has just posted this forceful blogpost about deferring action (see also the YouTube video further down this live blog):

Cancún should not be a stepping stone! This year's conference in Cancún should be doing what Copenhagen was supposed to do last year: establish a fair, ambitious, and legally binding agreement. Short-sighted politics, disconnected from climate science, disconnected from those whose lives will be affected by climate change (read: all of us), and disconnected from principles of justice or equity, are driving these negotiations, and driving those who are happy to call Cancún a stepping stone. Let's just say that those who are willing to step on Cancún likely won't hesitate to step on a lot more.

2.23pm: There's a webcast due to start in 10 minutes at the conference - watch this space for any interesting developments.

2.19pm: While we wait for things to get moving in Cancún, here's PricewaterhouseCoopers' take on what would be a 'good outcome' today:

There is optimism in Cancun that an agreement will be reached on fast-start funding, despite attempts by some countries to link this to other, more difficult, issues such as MRV and technology transfer. For some that will be progress since Copenhagen, but for many the reality is that this will simply release funds pledged a year ago. That in itself is important given the frustration that little has been dispersed [in funding]. - Jon Williams, PwC

And Oxfam's:

It is essential that a new fair Climate Fund be established at Cancun, with at least 50 per cent of climate funds allocated for adaptation needs. Women must be at the heart of the Fund so that the money is delivered to them and other groups affected most by the impacts of climate change.

2.13pm: Guest blogger Sylvia Rowley has written an inspiring post for us today on upcoming youth climate activists. There are no Tamsin Omonds, Ben Stewarts or Leila Deens - these are the next generation of names to watch. They're a diverse bunch. Here's Naomi Ralph, a 25 year-old climate justice campaigner:

Environmental problems are not just a white, middle-class, liberal concern

And Isabel Bottoms, a 21 year-old co-founder of UNfairplay:

It sounds boring [doing admin to help poor countries at UN climate negotiations], and in all honesty it is pretty boring, except it happens to be essential.

1.59pm: Some light relief on YouTube that sums up the Groundhog Day feeling some close followers of the climate talks might be experiencing, courtesy of the still-surprising-popular Xtranormal 'text-to-film' service:

(hat-tip to Alex Randall)

1.47pm: John Vidal, one of our two correspondents in Cancún, has woken up and recalled yesterday's late night events over the phone to me:

John Vidal John Vidal

[Bolivian president] Evo Morales stole the show with the most theatrical press conference, which included Mayan priests, admirals, indigenous peoples, advisers and anyone else he could think of. It was followed by a rally in downtown Cancun, which featured brass bands, music and denunciations of the American empire and the whole approach of the west to cutting carbon emissions using carbon markets and offsets. "If we send the Kyoto protocol to the rubbish bin, we are responsible for ecocide and genocide, because we will be sending many people to their deaths," said Morales.

1.16pm: So if Cancún does end in a deadlock - and that's still a very big if - what happens next? Professor Ludwig Krämer, an environmental law expert who works at ClientEarth, has emailed me his idea for an alternative to the current UN process:

Live blog: email

We cannot wait any longer naively expecting the UN process to lead selfish states to an agreement. It is now time to look for an alternative solution. If no global agreement can currently be reached, Europe should take the initiative and pursue a regional agreement.

While political and media attention has fixed on glitzy summits like Copenhagen and Cancun, an existing EU agreement that could provide the solution gathers dust. The Cotonou Agreement was signed in 2000 between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of 79 states and the European Union (EU) for economical, social and environmental cooperation. It provides a framework through which development policy is deployed. It contains an environmental aspect and it could be extended.

...The agreement could be a model for a global agreement and reassert the EU's leadership role at global negotiations.

12.53pm: Early-rising delegates at the Cancún conference will be waking up now, and preparing for a day that officially closes around midnight (6pm in Cancún). Sceptical types will likely take that with a pinch of salt, despite Mexican president Felipe Calderon saying it will finish on time. Last year in Copenhagen, the feverish last-minute wrangling went on until 12.58am the following day, amid a swirl of rumours and impromptu press briefings.

Those final hours also featured a star cast of world leaders, including Obama, Merkel, Lula da Silva and Brown. This year is quite a different deal - Chris Huhne specifically asked David Cameron not to go. Here's a list of the world leaders in Cancún that I'm aware of:
• Jacob Zuma, South Africa
• Evo Morales, Bolivia
• Felipe Calderon, Mexico
• Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana
• Jens Stoltenberg, Norway
• Doris Leuthard, Switzerland
• Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia
• Raila Odinga, Kenya
(let me know if I've missed any - I'm pretty sure I'm missing several, and am struggling to find a single source at the UN that lists those attending)

12.24pm: Just seen this on Twitter.

Christian Aid says it's staging a protest at the Japanese embassy in London at 1pm, presumably as a reaction to its hardline stance on not extending the Kyoto protocol:

Emergency dash to Clapham Junction to source Santa suits for 'Don't Kill Kyoto' #climate protest @ Japan embassy in London @ 1pm. #COP16less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

12.18pm: It was clearly a late night for many in Cancún last night. Negotiators were reportedly working into the early hours and activists such as Change and Switch's Linh Do were still tweeting at 1am, Cancún-time. But while we wait for the Mexican resort to wake up in the next hour, here in the UK Greenpeace's Joss Garman is an upbeat mood, despite the developments overnight:

Joss Garman,  anti-aviation campaigner Joss Garman

Not so gloomy bout #COP16 as many. If Japan can agree to allow Kyoto issue to be resolved later, there's other key areas for agreement now

11.36am: To get a flavour of what it's been like at Cancún, check out our gallery of week two.

COP16 Cancun : Greempeace and tcktcktck activists Greempeace and tcktcktck activists, performe under water in Cancun, Mexico. Photograph: Jason Taylor/Greenpeace/EPA

It has everything from activists' protests and photo stunts - including this particularly spectacular underwater one - to life inside the halls of the Moon Palace hotel and Cancunmesse, where the negotiations are taking place.

11.17am: My colleagues on the Guardian's global development site have just published a blogpost on 'energy apartheid', or the fact that over a billion people still don't even have electricity - let alone worry about whether it's green or dirty, the issue that Cancún is interested in. It's by Drew Corbyn, from the charity Practical Action:

Some find the link between energy access and climate change a source of tension, arguing that it is foolhardy, given that the world is hurtling towards dangerously high levels of carbon in the atmosphere, to encourage nearly half the world's population to use more energy. This position is short-sighted and unjust. Meeting the basic energy needs of all the world's people would contribute less than 2% to current global emissions. People living in poverty should not be deprived of the opportunity to improve their lives because of the developed world's historical profligacy.

11.03am: Here's the news on Russia's opposition to extending the Kyoto protocol.

Russia's climate change envoy, Alexander Berditsky, said:

Russia will not participate in the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol... Russia has repeatedly stated, including at the highest political level, that the adoption of commitments for the second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol as it stands now would be neither scientifically, economically or politically effective.

Looks like we can expect opposition (Russia, Japan, Canada) and support (most developing countries, potentially EU) for the Kyoto protocol to become a pivotal stumbling block today. But will countries compromise, as executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat Christiana Figueres has repeatedly asked them too?

If you find your national position is in opposition to that of others, don't ask for compromise, think of our common planet and offer the compromise first. The deal here in Cancún will not guarantee all your short-term national interests, but reaching no outcome here in Cancún will endanger everyone's long-term well-being

10.50am: Australia-based youth climate activist and student Tim Hall, who is at Cancún, emails me with a plea to the officials and ministers who will be waking up in a couple of hours for today's crunch negotiations. It's written on behalf of the generation who will be affected by many of the predicted impacts of global warming:

It is now the final day and negotiations are still in a deadlock. You still haven't agreed on steps to fight climate change. The 'balanced package' of a fund to oversee climate aid, ways to slow deforestation, steps to help poor countries adapt to climate change and a mechanism to share clean technologies, remains unfinished.

You have had sixteen years of this negotiating. You've had twelve months to ensure progress was made here at COP16.

Yet you still bicker and delay, you still lose sight of the big issue. It seems it's the small things which create the biggest differences. You still can't compromise.

If you can't agree on these things, what hope is there for us at all?

A little heads-up: we've got a great blog on upcoming youth climate activists coming in the next hour.

10.42am: Nnimmo Bassey, the African chair of Friends of the Earth International, has written an interesting comment piece for us on Africa's role in the talks. One of his main complaints is that some leaders of the continent - which is expected to suffer some of the worst effects of rising temperatures, particularly on food supplies - are being used to promote the agenda of developed countries. He singles out the prime ministers of Kenya and Ethiopia:

The Right and Livelihood Awards - Nnimmo Bassey Nnimmo Bassey. Photograph: Romel De Vera/FoEI/EPA

... when rich countries are finally being asked to recognise this through taking strong action to cut their emissions, they are using Africans as a mouthpiece to help them wriggle out of it. What they should do is clear: commit unconditionally to an extension of the Kyoto protocol, cut their emissions by at least 40% by 2020 (without carbon offsetting), and provide more money for developing countries to tackle the problem.

10.20am: Not a great start to the final day of the talks. Last night Russia said no to an extension of the Kyoto protocol, which developing countries are adamant is crucial for agreement on other aspects of a climate deal. Canada is also understood to oppose the extension.

The pair join Japan, which last week cast a negative shadow over the talks by announcing it would not back an extension of the treaty that was created in its former capital. The protocol, which binds rich countries to cut their emissions, is due to expire in 2012. Japan has since hardened its position, with one of its ambassadors telling John Vidal this week:

We are not moving. This is a fact. Many people have had the illusion that Japan might change its position. Well, we are sorry, but we are not going to. There is 0% possibility

We'll have the full story for you in a few minutes, courtesy of Suzanne Goldenberg.

9.54am: This in from Suzanne Goldenberg, our US correspondent who is on the ground at Cancún, who says the final hours of the summit have started to "bring out leaders' dramatic flair."

Suzanne Goldenberg Suzanne Goldenberg

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, compared the negotiations to an airplane disaster movie. At an event yesterday he said:
"Sometimes I think we fail to understand that we're all passengers in the same vessel, in the same aircraft, or the same vehicle. Our aircraft has now seen the disappearance of the pilot. Something happened in the cabin. And all the passengers are responsible for the aircraft, and we're squabbling about these matters. Whether the guilt lies with those in the tourist class or those sitting up front in first class and the plane continues to go down. It's as if we were in a truck on a winding road and the driver has had a heart attack, and we're all on the edge of hitting a tree, going over into a ravine, squabbling again. I think, friends, somebody has to take control of the aircraft or put on the brakes."

9.45am: John Vidal's roundup of week one also gives a handy overview on the key areas negotiators and environment ministers need to agree today:
• A deal to cut emissions and prevent a dangerous rise in future temperatures.
• Setting up a plan to protect forests and keep emissions locked away, while helping developing countries in the process.
• Raising billions of pounds in climate aid to help poor countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.
• Extending the Kyoto protocol, which is set to expire in 2012.
• Closing loopholes in the text that could see emissions actually rise.
• Improving transparency of countries' carbon cuts – a key US demand, more geekily known as monitoring, reporting and verifying (MRV).

9.36am: You'd be forgiven for having missed Cancún over the last fortnight, what with that other small story about WikiLeaks and the low expectations for the summit. To get up to speed, I highly recommend our primer to this year's UN climate conference, which lays out the key players, issues and background. And to get the full back story to the negotiations, which have been going on for years to secure a new international deal to cut carbon emissions, take a look at our beautiful timeline of the talks.

9.16am: India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, has said India may eventually commit to legally binding cuts in emissions. Here's Ramesh, according to an Indian TV news broadcast this morning that Reuters is reporting:

Jairam Ramesh, India environment minister Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister

All countries must make binding commitments in appropriate legal form. This does not mean that India is for a legally binding commitment at this stage. That's our position. There are changing realities that we have to understand. Increasingly, more and more developing countries are asking questions of India, China and the United States, the three big countries saying they will not accept an international legally-binding agreement. I have nuanced our position ... Let's keep this discussion going, let's understand the sentiments of the rest of the world, and let's not be painted as the bad guy.

However tentative the remarks, they're a relatively big deal for India. Previously it's only talked about voluntary cuts, and even then only cuts in "carbon intensity" - carbon emissions per unit of GDP - meaning in a fast-growing economy such as India, emissions could still continue to rise. An Indian official, speaking to Reuters, confirmed Ramesh's slightly coded words: "What the minister said was that India is willing to open a dialogue on taking binding emission cuts going forward as a means to keep the negotiations meaningful and alive."

09.00am: Two weeks of wrangling over the fate of the world come to a climax today at the UN climate summit in Cancún, Mexico.

At stake is not just whether billions of people will have "shrinking horizons and smaller futures", as Ban Ki-moon puts it, but the credibility of the UN body overseeing the talks.

Unlike Copenhagen last year, no one is expecting a binding deal at Cancún that will commit countries to cut the carbon emissions responsible for climate change. That much has been clear since as early as February, and since then everyone from the UN to key countries and NGOs has been conducting expectation management.

But the talks could still produce modest successes on forest protection, the speed and amount of financial aid developed countries give to developing ones to adapt to climate impacts, the transfer of clean technology, and monitoring of countries' efforts to cut greenhouse gases. Or it could end in a procrastinating failure, with key decisions deferred another year, until Durban in South Africa. Such failure, the energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne warned yesterday, could result in a vicious downward spiral as countries send increasingly more junior representatives each year:

Cancun COP16: UK Climate Secretary Chris Huhne helping to facilitate information consultations Chris Huhne

Next year people will say, well, we're not going to make any progress, and we end up with a zombie conference where there won't be anybody at a senior enough level to take any serious decisions at all

So far, the talks in Cancún have followed a familiar narrative for UN climate talks. Poorer countries have threatened to walk out over uncompromising negotiating stances taken by rich ones, the Kyoto protocol – the legally binding treaty that compels developed countries to cut emissions by 2012 – has been at heart of disagreements, and leaked texts have revealed backroom deals (this time the EU and small island states – last year's was the controversial 'Danish text'). Plus this year we've had the added spice of cables released by WikiLeaks that show how the US used its diplomatic muscle to get support for the weak Copenhagen accord document that emerged this time last year.

Officially, we should hear the outcome of Cancún at midnight (the summit is six hours behind UK time). But judging from the final day at Copenhagen last year, when Barack Obama delayed his flight home for last-minute negotiations, it's likely to go on until the early hours. This live blog will try to keep going until the end result - Damian Carrington will be taking over from me this afternoon.

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