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Week 2 at Cancun: It’s Show Time

A progress report as UNFCCC climate negotiations in Cancun enter their second week.

With neither major surprises nor major fireworks in the first week of the Cancun climate talks, the stage is set for significant progress in week two. But – and there always seems to be a “but” around climate talks – several conditions will need to be met if we are going to capitalize on this potential.

Condition #1: Building Trust

One notable difference between this meeting and last year’s – besides the weather – is that we are seeing a smoother and more productive process in Cancun. This is largely due to the effective and transparent leadership of the Mexican presidency. After the breakdown in Copenhagen, countries have been particularly sensitive about how the negotiations are run. And, as I’ve written before, trust is a key ingredient for success. Countries need to believe they are in good hands, and there are no secret texts or other diversions at hand. Mexico has made real strides in rebuilding trust, which has not gone unnoticed. Condition 1 met.

Condition #2: Workable Text

On Saturday, the new Long-term Cooperative Action (or LCA) text was released. While the text is too long and yet short on specifics in key areas, like mitigation, it does show that countries are narrowing the key options and decisions that need to be made. Specifically, in areas such as REDD+, finance, technology, and adaptation, there are clear indications that an agreement is possible. We are not there yet, but overall there is a workable text to build upon. Condition 2 met.

Condition #3: Constructive Mood

The first week of the conference consisted mostly of negotiators – and, so far, the engagement has been largely productive. Of course there are one or two outliers, but countries seem to realize that time is indeed very short both for this session and for the UNFCCC to make progress on an agreement. This is not the moment for large scale tactics or getting sucked into petty fights over small issues. As the second week begins, Ministers will start to engage and one hopes that the constructive mood will continue. In which case, Condition 3 would be met.

Condition #4: Balance

The stated goal of the meeting by many is to have a "balanced package of decisions." But this balance will only be possible if there is also "balanced engagement" by all Parties. This includes countries that are saying they will not accept any outcome of the LCA track, without final agreement on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This also includes the United States, which has been calling for a level of transparency for developing countries that it is unwilling to apply to itself. Neither of these positions is tenable, and if countries hold on to them for too long, the fragile balance of the negotiations will likely tip and fall. Condition 4 not met yet, but within reach.

Condition #5: Progress on Kyoto

On the first day of the negotiations, Japan took some by surprise by declaring that it would not put its pledge under the Kyoto Protocol (the first commitment period is set to expire in 2012). This has catalyzed attention on the Kyoto track, with important players, like the EU, signaling they are willing to put their pledges into a Kyoto II agreement. There has been some movement on this decision, but not enough. Japan is in the center of this outcome. Condition 5 needs more work.

Condition #6: Leadership from Ministers

As the Ministers arrive for week two, all eyes will be on them. They must take control of the meetings and ensure a positive outcome. Some negotiators are actually blocking potential progress by worrying that the Minister might make a choice that the negotiator would not prefer. But this is exactly why we need Ministers and other high-level officials to engage: to ensure that leaders are accountable to their publics and to deliver solutions that the world so desperately needs. If the Ministers are successful – and we don’t have any unwanted last-minute surprises — the Cancun talks could be a very productive meeting that would be a significant success. Condition 6 - essential but still unsure.

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