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Breathing New Life into Climate Talks in Bangkok

Negotiators are now figuring out the details that will turn the Cancun Agreements into something that makes a difference on the ground.

It has been a few months since the standing ovations in Cancun and the tremendous sense of relief in the Hall that final morning. Next week, climate negotiators will get back together in Bangkok with an opportunity to continue that positive spirit and breathe life into the Cancun Agreements.

They can start by developing much more detailed rules for many elements of the agreements and set the agenda for COP-17 in Durban, South Africa (coming in November 2011).

While a number of details were not finalized in Cancun, countries should build on the successful areas. These issues include country pledges, technology transfer, and adaptation.

Several key issues in the Cancun Agreements require further negotiations in order for implementation to occur. For instance, the agreements called for international assessment and review of developed countries’ emissions commitments, but provided few details on how that will occur. What kind of accounting guidelines are needed so one can compare developed country commitments? What elements of the Kyoto Protocol should be adopted within the other negotiating track to ensure consistency? How does a review in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation function? The transparency provisions for developing countries also need more detailed guidelines to ensure implementation.

The finance issue also continues to be a crucial element of the negotiations. Negotiators in Bangkok must begin to address how to make the Transitional Committee for the new Green Climate Fund operational; develop a common reporting framework for developed country financing; and figure out which sources of climate finance can be used to meet the $100 billion goal that countries agreed to in Copenhagen.

Some fundamental issues cannot be ignored in the hope that they will be resolved at the next COP. The Bangkok meeting should set an agenda to address the gap between the current commitments and actions outlined in the Cancun Agreements with the long-term target of reducing global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius. Similarly, decisions need to be made around the future legal form of the agreement and its relationship to the Kyoto Protocol.

The science review, an important component of the broad package of measures in the Cancun Agreements, provides a basis to transition from rulemaking in the short term to a more ambitious goal over the long term. The agreements indicate that this review that should start in 2013 and end no later than 2015, and it includes information about how such a review could take into consideration findings by groups, such as the IPCC. But how would this review occur? Who leads it? What are the implications of its findings? How will the 1.5 degrees C target listed in the agreements be used as a benchmark? According to the Cancun Agreements, these are all questions on the agenda for Durban. The Bangkok meeting provides a forum to develop a clear process to answer such questions this year.

For the most part, the UNFCCC is now entering a phase in which figuring out the details will be essential to turn the Cancun Agreements into something that makes a difference on the ground.

Negotiators need to find a way to breathe life into these decisions. Doing so without sucking the life out of the legal form discussion will be crucial for success. While Durban must focus on delivering on Cancun’s promise, it should not neglect the longer term goal of injecting renewed urgency and ambition into the global climate architecture.

Making progress on these issues can help advance the efforts of individual countries that are already taking place. A number of countries, particularly developing nations, are developing their national climate and energy policies. South Africa is debating a carbon tax; China introduced its new 12th Five Year Plan; and the European Commission has introduced a long-term, low-carbon roadmap. The UNFCCC should support these developments, which can help promote the successful shift towards a lower-carbon, more climate-resilient world.

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