The Climate Agreement and us

December 15, 2010 | By | Filed Under Editorial 

Even though the dust hasn’t quite settled over President Jagdeo’s intemperate outburst at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP 16) at Cancun, as a country that is affected at several levels by the grim prognostications of climate change, we ought to consider how the wind is now blowing after this latest conclave. If global warming is allowed to continue at the present rate our coastland – already some six feet under sea level – will surely be inundated unless massive mitigatory steps are undertaken.
Against that background, the President’s decision to construct his new palatial (retirement?) mansion at Sparendaam with the ocean practically lapping on his doorsteps, is either a signal of his faith in the ongoing negotiations to deliver funds to ward off the waters or is another manifestation of his “don’t give a damn” attitude displayed most recently at Cancun. Our forests, as we all know by now, have also been all (practically) put into mothballs by the president, wagering that we will be compensated not only by countries such as Norway, but via REDD+ mechanisms agreed to through the UN process.
So what happened at Cancun?
A clue is offered by the widespread assessment that Cancun’s most significant achievement was, as UNFCCC secretary-general Christiana Figueres emphasised, to restore some degree of faith in the UN multilateral process. After the ignominious failure last year at Copenhagen to reach any sort of agreement, expectations for Cancun were not very high, so the fact that even the modest consensus that was reached (Bolivia notably denounced the agreement without any binding cuts as totally avoiding the issue) brought a sigh of relief.
For us, the most pertinent immediate issue was the acceptance of REDD and REDD+ as part of the package with proposed mitigation actions including conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks and sustainable management of forests. The agreements propose a Cancun Adaptation Framework to strengthen and address implementation of action, and various kinds of assessments, apart from research and development and a host of issues.
The agreements propose to enhance transparency by the developing countries and emphasise the role of market-based mechanisms to promote mitigation action. As to whether this will be achieved through a carbon credit market or through a fund, is still up in the air. But as our experience with Norway has demonstrated, disbursements through funds has its severe downside since the funds are handled as if they are aid rather than payment for providing a service – sequestering carbon.
On finance, the agreements call for information on the fast start finance promised last year at Copenhagen by the developed countries. They endorse the pledge by the developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually till 2020 and say a significant share of this new multilateral funding should flow through the Green Climate Fund, which is also established. This new fund will be the operating entity of the UNFCCC financial mechanism. The fund will be designed by a transitional committee, with 15 members from the developed countries and 25 from the developing nations.
What this means in reality is that the money will have to be raised through wheedling by the committee, which includes Guyana. At the rate which the initial $30 billion, promised at Copenhagen, was raised (noting up to now), we should not hold our breath for money from this source soon. On the raison d’être for the whole exercise – a new treaty on binding cuts in carbon emission – the agreements simply reiterate that there should be no gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in December 2012, and the second phase. This means that the next meeting – COP 17 in South Africa next year – becomes a do or die affair.
The recognition by the larger developing countries – such as China and India – of the need for them to make some commitments, as the developed countries did back in Kyoto, gives hope that all is not lost. The difference between Copenhagen and Cancun showed the importance of the host Chairman in crafting agreements at this level.

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