The Road to Cancun: Ambitions and Expectations

On October 25th, 2010, the European Journalism Center Climate Action Conference initiated a debate on the up-coming Conference of the Parties (CoP 16) at Cancun, Mexico, later this year. The keynote speakers being Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, and Laurence Graff, Head of Unit in DG CLIMA, European Commission, the  discussion between panelists and journalists focused on the outcomes of the CoP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and the expectations for the next step on the road to tackling climate change in Mexico in 2010.

Prof. van Ypersele’s straightforward statement that “Copenhagen was a failure” paints a clear picture of the mood that politicians and experts are to take with them to Cancun. Yet, as Vice-Chairman of the IPCC, he clearly stated that the role of experts in the climate change debate is not to advise politicians on the proper course of action, but rather to assess the science behind climate change and produce a report which allows our political leaders to make an informed decision. One result of this was the adoption of the 2 degrees Centigrade target for limiting global warming, which was proposed by the IPCC in 1996 and consequently adopted by the political elite.

It is with these aims that the IPCC expresses a clear hope that “policy-makers in Cancun will use the expert report in the best way possible”, stated Prof. van Ypersele. Nevertheless, even with the adoption of the 2 degrees Centigrade target, the IPCC expresses the opinion that the goal set is high, while the pledges made by political leaders are insufficient. The underlying problem in the political lack of commitment and of motivation was stressed greatly, although the IPCC remains a non-biased transnational organization.

A similar picture was produced by Laurence Graff, the Head of Unit in DG CLIMA, European Commission. In her words, “the negotiations in Copenhagen did not deliver what was expected”. Certainly, the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement between 29 Heads of Government, recognized the 2 degrees Centigrade target and produced several other positive outcomes, but was definitively “below [the EU’s] expectations”. Even though the target was set, the missing pieces are what is to be done to achieve that target. Her statement: “at least we know what the final objective is”, is both a sigh of relief of having taken a first step and a disappointment of not having achieved enough.

What the negotiations in Cancun hold in store for the EU is uncertain. The Commission expects to integrate the Copenhagen Accord into the UNFCCC and have more members of the Convention on board. Yet, even though the EU is ready for a legally-binding agreement, “not many others are”. Ms. Graff further elaborated that “we [the EU] need other major players to come on-board”. How the Union hopes to persuade other political leaders to do this was not a focus of discussion, although the main player that the Commission would like to see taking up a larger role is the United States. Ms. Graff stated: “without the US, it is hard to get others to move”. And with the ambitious, yet realistic mindset of the Commission, she added: “we really expected more [in Copenhagen], and we really hope that the Cap and Trade Bill would go through Congress”, but when it comes to Cancun, “there is no hope for the US in the short-term future”.

On the whole, the EU’s expectations for Cancun are that the US will upkeep its pledge made in Copenhagen a year ago. “It is not enough, but it’s a start” stated Ms. Graff. Yet, the overall outcome of the CoP 16 will also lie with the level of ambition of the political leaders and will have to deliver a “balanced set of decisions”. The stress on balance is key to the EU’s position in the negotiations and also to its strategy of “building bridges between actors”. Nevertheless, a specific figure for the curbing of CO2 emissions is not expected to come out of Mexico.


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