As the Tianjin climate negotiations come to a close, progress remains patchy. The forecast is still cloudy, but rays of sunlight are just starting to peak through.
On the one hand, there was further clarity of some key issues with a deepening understanding of the positions and choices that have to be made in Cancun, the site of the next major climate meeting. Some working groups—--such as finance, technology and adaptation—--were able to make progress toward an agreement. On the other hand, a number of the most difficult issues, such as mitigation, remain. The patches of sunlight will need to grow over the coming weeks if Cancun is going to achieve real progress toward an international agreement on global warming.
The challenge is to bring together the decisions captured in the Copenhagen Accord with the negotiating texts that have been further developed since December. In Tianjin, there continued to be cherry-picking of the Copenhagen Accord to suit short-term tactics, rather than using the Accord as a key input to the Cancun outcome. While the Copenhagen Accord should not be the only factor, it’s essential that all countries keep their promises made in Copenhagen if Cancun has a chance of being a success.
This does not mean, however, that those elements alone are enough. For example, it’s now clear that the Copenhagen emission pledges are far below what’s truly needed to turn back global warming. Countries must, therefore, include a scientific review of those pledges along with the latest science to ensure we can keep within the long-term goal of a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature. In addition, clarity on the legal form of the full agreement—--including the future of the Kyoto Protocol—--is a top priority for most countries. Combining the so-called "balanced package of decisions,” often cited as the goal for Cancun, with clarity on the legal form of the agreement is at the heart of the challenge. Threading this needle will be a major task as we move toward Cancun.
While some voices are already declaring the UNFCCC process dead and Cancun a likely failure, it’s far too soon to make such judgments. While the future role of the UNFCCC—--and a truly international pact—--hangs in the balance, the history of negotiations shows that major breakthroughs are possible up to the last moment. The hosts of upcoming major conferences, like South Africa and Brazil, and those that have played such a leadership role in the past, like the EU, have a key interest in making those breakthroughs happen. Likewise, the United States and China—--the world’s two largest carbon emitters—--also need to continue to come to the table and engage constructively if we’re going to find a path forward.
Progress on an agreement cannot be left just to environmental ministers, but must once again involve heads of state. History tells us it will take bold leadership to forge an agreement. World leaders must be willing to set aside the ghosts of Copenhagen and personally engage to make Cancun--—and the UNFCCC—--a success. The ominous signs of global warming are all around us and the climate will not wait. With true leadership and a commitment for collective action, we can clear the fog for good.