Environment

Rocky first week augurs badly for Cancun outcome

03.12.10 @ 17:47

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - As UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, near the half-way mark, the European Commission has conceded that progress so far has been slow, with several major hiccups already in the first week.

  • Ministers are scheduled to meet for the first time at the Cancun talks this Sunday (Photo: Friends of the Earth International)

"After the encouraging start ... there was this awaking that brought clear evidence that things are progressing quite slowly," the commission's climate spokeswoman, Maria Kokkonen, said during a regular press briefing in Brussels on Friday (3 December).

Politicians have worked hard to downplay expectations after last year's fiasco in Copenhagen, but EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard is among those to have said a poor outcome at the Mexico talks (29 Nov - 10 Dec) could spell the end for the UN negotiating process.

Two sets of parallel talks are taking place at the same time: discussions to secure a global deal on cutting carbon emissions, together with negotiations to continue the Kyoto Protocol, a smaller agreement that currently binds richer states to cut emissions up to 2012.

Japan's surprise announcement on Tuesday that it would not go ahead with a second commitment period (post-2012) under the Kyoto protocol greatly alarmed developing nations. The widely criticised protocol, which is ignored by the US, is still considered better than nothing by the Group of 77 poorer states.

Since then, the EU has refused to be drawn on the consequences of the Japanese announcement. "It's all strategy, a power game," said one official, adding that Europe was ready to sign up "on condition that others do so as well and that the weaknesses in the protocol are addressed."

Further disquiet came later on Tuesday when the EU's chief negotiator said short-term funding to help developing nations fight climate change would include roughly 50 percent in loans.

Development NGOs slammed the move as saddling poorer nations with even greater debt, prompting the EU to clarify its position, insisting that the poorest nations would still receive up to 75 percent of the money in the form of grants. But wrangling over the 'fast-start' funding has damaged relations between the two sides, say analysts.

In an apparent effort to pick up the pace of talks and put these hiccups behind them, the Mexican hosts have convened a meeting of ministers for this Sunday, two days ahead of the formal start of ministerial negotiations.

Europe's position is complicated by having two representatives at the table during the crucial second-half of the talks. Sources close to the negotiations suggest Flemish minister for the environment Joke Schauvliege may let Ms Hedegaard do the bulk of the talking however. "She's the one with the experience," said the contact. "She knows the other negotiators and they know her."

Belgian media suggest a third European figure, Belgian federal minister for climate and energy Paul Magnette, may also be flying out to the negotiations this weekend, potentially adding a further dynamic to the already complicated situation. Belgium currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency.

Despite signs of little progress so far, some analysts remain optimistic that areas of success can be achieved this year, increasing the possibility of a broader legally binding deal in South Africa in 2012.

"Everyone keeps their cards close to their chests in week one," German Marshall Fund expert, Thomas Legge, said by phone from the Cancun meeting. "There are grounds for a few agreements, but at this stage parties are holding off on these as part of negotiations for later on."