Preview of COP-16 in Cancun at the GSLF

Today I was asked last minute to fill in for someone on a panel that discussed global cooperation for the UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico for the Global Sustainable Leaders Forum.

According to the GSLF’s website, the purpose of the forum is to “develop future leaders for a sustainable world” and featured UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon as the keynote speaker.

Given relatively little background on this forum beforehand, I was surprised to arrive at China’s National Convention Center to find the audience comprised primarily of high-school and college-aged students from all over China. I was joined on the panel by Calvin Quek, a recent Peking University MBA graduate and member of the Beijing Energy Network (pictured with me above); Daniel Foa, President and co-founder of Fairklima Capital; Andrea De Angelis, Senior Advisor on Climate Change in the Policy Support Team UNDP China Office; and Jahying Chung of the Great Green Initiative.

Nonetheless, I tried to provide some general points about the upcoming Cancun climate talks, assuming the audience probably had little background by way of the technical substance being debated by the talks themselves.

Here are the brief points I made:

-       Cancun will not be a Copenhagen. First of all, expectations are much lower. Much like Copenhagen, a legally-binding deal has been well off the table. So many are looking toward COP-17 in South Africa, although it’s not likely the United States will achieve domestic climate legislation by then. Second, Copenhagen was unprecedented on several levels. Heads of States and Ministers won’t be attending and negotiating a final deal like last year, when around 120 national leaders showed up in Copenhagen and burned the midnight oil to broker a deal.  Cancun will be much more low profile.  Third, we shouldn’t think of any outcome of Cancun in terms of “success” or “failure.”  Instead, we should look at Cancun as more like, in the words of Jonathan Lash of the World Resources Institute – “Copencun” – picking up where we left off in Copenhagen in Cancun.  We can hope that the main outcome of Cancun will be preservation of the UNFCCC process and enough concrete action so countries stay engaged in 2011.

-       If Tianjin is any indication of what we can expect in Cancun, we can expect that tensions between the United States and China probably have not yet boiled over. What we saw in Tianjin were major eruptions between the US and China disagreeing in fundamental approaches to the climate talks, with US still pressing China on transparency and MRV and China criticizing US for not bringing any stronger mitigation commitments to the table. What Cancun needs most is the US and China engaging in dialogue constructively and not bickering.  We can also hope that the progress made on a technology transfer mechanism and oversight body as well as financing of developing country adaptation and mitigation measures will result in some key decisions in Cancun.

-       Last, we can expect, regardless of the outcome of Cancun, for countries to act on climate change. Already China has incorporated its pledge in Copenhagen to reduce carbon intensity by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2020 as part of its national law. The U.S. will use existing laws and programs to restrict emissions from the transport and power sectors. The European Union is considering details for its cap and trade program beyond 2012 and discussing possibilities of cutting emissions to 30% below 1990 levels in 2020.

I have some more blog posts that I’ve submitted and will hopefully go live soon. I’ll cross-post them here and continue to report all the action live from Cancun!

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