Mind the Gap: Gearing up for Cancún and the COP 16

Bonn, Germany ⎯ On Monday, the antepenultimate UNFCCC organizing meeting kicked off in Bonn, as representatives from the 178 governments and 3100 participants gathered to hammer out differences and draw up a draft text in preparation for the COP 16 meeting taking place in December in Cancún.

The preparatory negotiations take place on two tracks: the ad hoc working group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the ad hoc working group on long-term cooperative action (AWG-LCA).

At the opening session of the AWG-KP, the G77 -- representing 130 countries -- expressed "serious concern about how slow progress being made" toward a draft negotiating text, stating "the primary of the last session was to adopt agreements on the scale of emissions reductions by Annex I countries in aggregate."

The AWG-KP seeks to establish guidelines for emissions reductions for industrialized countries. Currently, industrialized nations also known as Annex I countries indicate pledges under the Kyoto Protocol, using 1990 as a base year. (Developing countries are not subject to the same guidelines, since the bulk of their emissions post-date the 1990 baseline year.)

Historically, the U.S. is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (ghgs). Thus, many countries argue that it should take the lead in reining in emissions reductions. As the G77 put it: "Climate catastrophes that are destroying the infrastructure of many countries, particularly developing countries, are not accidental. Therefore, it is incumbent on the international community, bearing in mind the historic responsibility, to come to the aid of affected countries ... Developed countries shall take the lead in combating climate change, bearing in mind again the historic responsibility."

After U.S. climate negotiator John Pershing stymied talks at the June UNFCCC meeting, lead U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern is changing the U.S.'s tune, arguing that it remains prepared to reduce ghg emissions. <"> His statements make for nice rhetoric, but U.S. negotiators have yet to deliver the goods at any of the UNFCCC meetings.

The U.S.'s paltry offer -- put forward at Copenhagen and in the U.S. House of Representatives bill passed in June of 2009 -- of a 17% reduction based on 2005 levels is actually a mere 4% reduction based on 1990 levels, which is well below the 40% stipulated as necessary for averting climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UNFCCC's scientific body.

The EU, in stark contrast to the U.S., has committed to cut emissions by 20% based on 1990 levels and continues to offer a 30% reduction if other developed nations "commit themselves to comparable emissions reductions." Additionally, the EU reminded that it already has legally binding emissions reductions in place in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and it called for "a legally binding agreement governing all nations."

The AWG-KP's work is under considerable duress to prepare a negotiating text, in order to avoid a gap between the termination of its first commitment period, which ends in 2012, and the beginning of its new commitment period, the start date of which has yet to be established.

Meanwhile, on the other track, the AWG-LCA seeks to draft a negotiating text, ironing out differences around financing and the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions reductions.

At the end of the June UNFCCC meeting, dismay and even outrage was expressed by the draft text circulated. The majority of members received the revised text, submitted by the UNFCCC for circulation on July 9, 2010, with a willingness towards discussion and revision.

The main concern was funding, already expressed by the Least Developed Countries and AOSIS at the April UNFCCC meeting in Bonn. A tremendous gap exists between the pledges made in Copenhagen by developed nations and the amounts that have been received by developing nations.

Last week, the environment ministers of BASIC countries -- Brazil, China, India and South Africa -- met in Brazil and underscored that the promised funding is pivotal for allowing developing nations to adapt to climate change.

In Copenhagen, developed nations promised $30 billion of financial aid in fast-track funding to be distributed between 2010 and 2012, in order to assist developing nations with adaptation to climate change, such as rising sea levels or desertification, and with development of renewable energy.

On Monday, UNFCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres -- who replaced Yvo de Boer on July 8, 2010 -- stated that developed countries must provide proof at the COP 16 in Cancún that they have started distributing funds to developing nations.

The Alliance of Small Island States, AOSIS, which consists of 43 low-lying and island nations, reiterated that the emissions reductions pledged by Annex I countries will not limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees, which is the target needed in order to avert the worst side effects, such as rising sea levels that would see most of the AOSIS nations submerged. It expressed concern about the "growing scale and enormity of climate change."

Palpable was a feeling in the air that time is running out: the penultimate organizing meeting will take place from October 4-9, 2010 in Tianjin, China before the COP 16 takes place November 29 to December 10, 2010 in Cancún.