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Key Stories Playing Out at COP 16

Climate change is a topic that has steamrolled into mass consciousness, and the discourse gains more intensity daily.  There are multiple interests, parties, and positions all claiming legitimacy within the discussion. 

COP 16, the international climate change conference held in Cancun, Mexico, is the United Nations’ latest attempt to corral the cacophony of voices and unite them in an action plan to tackle global climate change.  With the conference more than half over, here’s a look at some of the notable stories emerging from the negotiations.

Climate Finance:  Where is it?

Climate finance — richer nations sending money to poorer nations in order to enable them to adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon energy technologies — has been considered an essential part of any international treaty since the very beginning of discussions in 1992.

Last year, at the UN’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed nations promised to send US$30 billion in funding to developing nations between 2010 and 2012.  The funding will be used to develop clean technologies, allowing poorer nations to become more capable of protecting themselves against climate change.

Despite the commitment, the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, says no monies have been dispersed yet.  A year into the program, Nasheed says it has been a nightmare:  “Governments will always drag things, even when it’s pledged, even when it’s cited in the budget – you can always drag the issue to the next year, and the World Bank, European Union, Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and so on – they all have  very difficult procurement procedures and it’s very, very difficult.”

This delay in funding, coupled with limited measures to keep nations accountable to their commitments  has led the developing world to worry it will not receive the support it requires. Furthermore, it has fostered a sentiment of distrust, making announcements such as the United States recent $300 million commitment to battle climate change in developing countries seem questionable.

Global Renewable Energy Standard

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) has proposed nations agree to a global renewable energy standard which would require signatories to supply 25% of their energy from renewable resources by 2025. 

The proposed renewable energy standard would give countries two options for meeting their targets.  They can either install renewable energy or pay other countries to do it.

According to ACORE, “renewable energy sources” include: solar, wind, hydro, ocean, geothermal, and biomass.  The International Renewable Energy Agency would be responsible for implementing the program.

Arthoruous Zervos, President of the European Renewable Energy Council says, “Agreeing on a global renewable energy target would be a positive signal for the world that countries are really serious and take concrete action against climate change.  It’s high-time to deliver a concrete outcome of the UN climate talks, the agreement on a global renewable energy target would send a signal of hope to the world.”

Legally Binding vs. Non-Binding

Several countries, China chief among, prefer not to sign a legally binding treaty.  They prefer to set their own targets, without establishing a system to keep them accountable for hitting these marks.  This non-binding system is the foundation of the Copenhagen accord that was borne out of last year’s conference.

The Kyoto protocol, the only legally binding emissions treaty in the world, expires in 2012.  Developing a more comprehensive, legally binding replacement for the Kyoto protocol is viewed by many as the most important step to combat climate change.  However, this seems unlikely as China has no interest in signing such a document, and the United States has a very detailed set stipulations which would need to be satisfied in order for them to sign — including China being part of the agreement.

A legally-binding treaty has now lost more steam with Japan stating it has no interest in committing to extend the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012. 

The Japanese delegation did state it wants an international treaty, but it does not want to have two competing agreements — Kyoto and the Copenhagen accord.  Hideki Minamikawa, vice minister for global environment in the Japanese environment ministry said: “It doesn’t make sense to set a second commitment period. [Signatories] to Kyoto only represent 15% of global emissions, but the countries who have signed up to the Copenhagen accord cause 80% of emissions. We want a single binding treaty.”

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