Developing countries and some major emerging economies – chiefly China, but also including India and others – insist that the Kyoto treaty must continue beyond 2012, when most of its current provisions expire.
This issue of a “second commitment period” in the jargon – so-called because when the treaty was originally signed, it was envisaged that the signatories would meet their 2012 targets then set a new set of tougher targets, and keep doing so at intervals – is one of the trickiest in the talks.
As ministers arrived in Cancun to join their officials, the star of the show so far was obvious: the Mexican hosts.
Praise has been heaped on the Mexicans for their skilful chairing of key meetings and the way they have managed to rebuild trust – especially among developing countries – after the acrimonious scenes that marred the final stages of the Copenhagen summit last year.
The gorgeous grounds of the Moon Palace resort in Cancun are chock full of people. Hurrying from one meeting room to another, sitting on the grass with laptops, queuing for soft drinks or munching on sandwiches in the shade of palm trees, taking shelter in the airconditioned lobby – the hotel can never have seen so many thousands of people at one time.
Most of these people are not residents – only the delegations themselves staying here, owing to security concerns – but participants who have travelled miles to get here each day. To get to the conference centre entrance takes half an hour to an hour from most of the hotels in Cancun, which itself is effectively a long strip of beach hotels stretching for tens of miles down the coast. Then participants have to pass security and take another half hour ride on a special shuttle bus to get to the Moon Palace, where the actual negotiations are going on. As some of the important side meetings are taking place at far distant hotels, many people seem to be spending most of their time at this conference in transit.
Forestry is one of the key areas of focus at the Cancun climate change talks, now in their second week. A programme – called REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation – that would provide poor countries with financial incentives to keep their remaining forests standing is being worked out, and has broad support.
Getting to this point has taken nearly two decades, even though keeping trees standing is by far the cheapest way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and staving off dangerous levels of global warming.
Some of the problems that have plagued the forestry talks include how to ensure that if logging is stopped in one part of a forest, it does not resume elsewhere; how to define land that has been degraded but could be restored; how to monitor the vast tracts of trees; whether and how to allow some forms of sustainable logging; and how to respect the rights of indigenous forest peoples.
The global shipping industry gives rise to more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire German economy. Yet shipping has been all but ignored in international climate change negotiations. Shipping emissions were excluded from the Kyoto protocol, and from the European Union’s emissions trading scheme.
Though the shipping industry has made some moves to monitor and reduce its emissions, these have not yet resulted in industry-wide action.
The Carbon War Room, a grouping founded by Sir Richard Branson to try to enlist businesses in the battle against climate change, is hoping to change all that.
Many thanks for all your questions for Ditlev Engel, the CEO of Vestas. His answers will appear on this site on Friday.
Next week, the person in the hotseat will be Yvo de Boer, the man who tried, and failed, to lead the UN to a binding climate change agreement in Copenhagen. He is now an advisor to KPMG, and on the final day of the Cancun summit, he will be on hand to talk about all things climate change.
Send in your questions on anything from why Copenhagen failed to whether the US will walk away from Cancun, or what role business has to play in any agreement.
Email all your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of Monday, December 6th.
How strong a hand will Chris Huhne, the UK energy secretary, take into the Cancun talks? Will he be able to persuade foreign ministers and negotiators that the UK is playing its part?
As recently noted by the WWF’s EU climate policy tracker, the UK rates highly for its overall government policy, being the only EU country with a legally binding long-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
But the problem is, British MPs are now warning that progress towards those targets is “unacceptably slow”.
This morning, the mood music coming from Cancun was that China and America were working their way through the morass of obstacles to a meaningful agreement. A briefing yesterday by Jonathan Pershing (pictured), the head of the US delegation, and Su Wei, his Chinese counterpart, led to a host of positive headlines.
Washington claimed progress on Monday in easing rifts with Beijing on ways to fight global warming as U.N. climate talks got under way in Mexico with warnings about the rising costs of inaction.
“We have spent a lot of energy in the past month working on those issues where we disagree and trying to resolve them,” said Jonathan Pershing, heading the U.S. delegation at the talks in Cancun.
Compromise, compromise, compromise – that is the watchword for the climate talks now going on in Cancun, according to the United Nations’ top climate change official, Christiana Figueres (pictured).
Her insistence was a clear reminder that the first objective of this year’s conference is to avoid scenes of the kind that marred the final days of last year’s summit in Copenhagen – when the debate degenerated into name-calling on the part of some countries, to the deep offence of many others.
It was impossible to predict yesterday whether her call for a constructive spirit would be heeded – on the first day, it’s easy for all the negotiators to wear winning smiles and to clap the anodyne speeches.