Cancun Summit ends with far reaching
decisions to save the planet


By Dulip Jayawardena

Te climate change conference under the Conference of Parties (COP) 16 was held in Cancun, Mexico from 2 -11 December 2010.The COP is the periodic meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which has near universal membership of 191 nations who are striving to save our planet from catastrophic consequences of significant increase in global temperature during the past few decades. This treaty gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) in 1997 where 37 developed countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, are legally bound to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) namely carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) at least by 5 per cent from the 1990 levels.

The international efforts to arrest global warming and thus minimize the world wide adverse effects of climate change were traced in an article I published early this year (Economic Review December 2009/January 2010 Peoples Bank Publication). This article describes briefly the developments from the protection of the ozone layer under the Montreal Protocol in 1987 up to the Copenhagen Summit (COP 15) in December 2009.

COP 16 was focused on the continuation of the KP after 2012 and the commitments of developed and developing nations as well as the countries in transition to market economies to arrest emissions of GHGs so that the global temperature will not rise by 2 degrees centigrade that would cause the polar ice caps to melt and completely inundate Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and coastal cities around the world. It is predicted that SIDS like Maldives will completely be submerged if meaningful and effective steps are not taken to arrest sea level rise.

In the above backdrop it was decided at COP16 to continue the KP under the second commitment period from 2012. To this end the main elements of the Cancun Agreement included the following

* Industrialized country targets to develop low –carbon development plans and strategies and assess how best to meet them including application of market mechanisms and report their inventories annually.

* Actions to reduce emissions in developing countries are officially recognized. A registry to be set up to record and match developing country mitigation actions to finance and technology support from industrialized countries.

* Parties meeting under the KP agreed to continue negotiations with the aim of completing their work and ensuring there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods of the treaty.

* The KPs Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) have been strengthened to drive major investments and technology into environmentally sound and sustainable emission reduction projects in the developing countries. The decision to include Carbon Capture and Storage Projects (CCS) a vital component of CDM was endorsed at the conference and it clears the way for developing countries to finance CCS projects. Institutional arrangements of CCS under any future UNFCCC mechanism is expected to cut by 20 per cent the required emissions abatement by 2050.

* Initiatives to and institutions to protect the vulnerable from climate change and to deploy finances and technology that developing countries need to plan and strengthen their sustainable futures were recognized.

* Industrialized countries pledged US$ 30 billion to accelerate support to developing countries for climate action up to 2012 and subsequently raise US$ 100 billion in long term funds by 2020 was also agreed.

* It was agreed to formulate a Green Climate Fund under the COP with a board of management with equal representation from developed and developing countries.

* A "Cancun Adaptation Fund" was established for better planning and implementation of adaptation projects in developing countries through increased financial and technical support including work related to loss and damage due climate change.

* Governments agreed to catalyze action to curb emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries wit technological and financial support.

* There was agreement to establish a Technology Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network to increase technology co operation to support action on adaptation and mitigation.

The Chairman of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) in a statement to COP 16 stated that when world leaders speak about climate change they invariably speak of water- of floods, droughts and failed harvests – and express their alarm. They are right to do so because climate change is mainly about water. Accordingly this statement called on the 193 countries that participated in the COP 16 of UNFCCC to make sustainable water resources management and disaster risk management an integral part of the global climate change. However climate negotiators objected that sectoral issues complicate negotiations by arguing that water resources management is not a "sector " but a cross cutting concern for the achievement of mitigation objectives around forestry, agriculture and energy many of which rely on availability of water. The water supply and sanitation sector, agriculture or any other sector should not be singled out for sectoral discussions. However the GWP is strongly of the view that the world’s water resources management should be singled out because of the potential impact of climate change on society will in many cases be transmitted through the medium of water.

It was agreed that the next COP under the UNFCCC will take place in South Africa from 28 November to 9 December 2011.

In conclusion it is of paramount importance to assess the outcome of COP 16 in terms the decisions taken in relation to Sri Lanka and what institutional mechanisms are there to implement these decisions. In the field of forestry there is support from developed countries to arrest deforestation and forest degradation. The CCS project under CDM where carbon can be stored underground in suitable rocks is applicable to Sri Lanka and should be initiated without delay. Further the formulation of a Green Climate Fund should be actively pursued. A detailed study should be initiated to look into the Cancun Agreements and evolve an effective coordination mechanism that could interact with all stake holders including the private sector.

It is unfortunate to note that senior government officials including the Conservator of Forests and the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority to name a few were not in the official delegation to the COP 16 held in Cancun Mexico. However the Sri Lanka delegation consisted of 15 members out of whom seven were politicians, two diplomats two senior administrators and four scientists who apparently had very limited knowledge of global issues related to climate change and its impact in Sri Lanka. It is proposed that the government should create a separate Ministry for Climate Change emulating other countries as this subject is of vital importance for socio economic progress of humankind.

(The author is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and can be reached at )

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