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COP Day 1 - Speeches and Traffic Jams

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30 Nov 2010
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Monday 29 November – COP Day 1

The 16th session of UNFCCC climate negotiations began with speeches from dignitaries, procedural questions and traffic jams along the highway between venues.

The federal police have taken over one side of the four-lane highway to speed traffic between the Cancunmesse and Moon Palace where the negotiations are taking place. Unfortunately, many official buses ferrying delegates were stranded at the back of a very long, single-lane traffic jam that continued into the late morning. Some delegates reported spending up to two hours in an endless line of cars and trucks. Although the COP is swinging into action, life continues in the Yucutan and people go about their daily routines, albeit much more slowly given the additional people, buses and police.

It appears that the entire Moon Palace complex has been taken over for the COP. There are dozens of organization, government offices and “embassies” throughout the complex. The beach is deserted and the only sign of waterfront activity are naval patrol boats of varying sizes near and offshore.

The first impression one gets upon entering the Moon Palace lobby is opulence. High end jewellery shops and marble everywhere combined with thousands of delegates, NGO representatives and others heading into the plenary hall create a heightened sense of unreality. It’s not the place one would expect to hear intense discussions on climate financing, adaptation and technology transfer, much less setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Many participants have commented that family and colleagues expressed scepticism that they were coming to the Mayan Riviera to work.

But the work resumed in earnest today. Preparations have been going on for months, really, ever since the tumultuous end of the last COP in Copenhagen. Over the last weeks and days many people have pointed to the importance of getting agreement here – not the definitive climate change treaty that was the goal of Copenhagen but “building blocks” of an agreement. As Christina Figueres, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary told the world’s media today, “Cancun will not solve everything and the outcome needs to be pragmatic, but Cancun also needs to keep ambition very much alive.”

The general feeling is that Cancun needs to deliver agreements on adaptation, climate financing, forestry and technology transfer. As Eco, the daily NGO bulletin, pointed out today, not only does there need to be a deal on financing, but there has to be a balance between mitigation and adaptation funding. This is a very important issue for the Arctic and Small Island Developing States. At the moment only 10% of climate financing goes to adaptation. Given the increasing emphasis on the need to deal with the climate change effects happening now in both regions, not to mention the ones coming in the future, countries need to fulfil the 2007 Bali Action Plan commitment to “improve access to adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources”. For the people of the Arctic, especially Indigenous Peoples, this principle means Arctic states need to make significant investments in adaptation.

Inside the plenary hall there were a number of procedural statements the most significant of which was a call by Papua New Guinea for the COP to vote when it looks like a consensus is not achievable. Under the UNFCCC terms of reference, the COP can vote but this section has never been adopted. That’s why decisions are stalled and no agreement can be reached, PNG said. “We cannot move at the pace of the slowest or the lowest” meaning consensus at all times ensures the lowest common denominator position always wins.

This discussion has come up before but this time the COP chair has organized an informal consultation and invited countries to participate. Bolivia, India and Saudi Arabia all supported the idea of consensus in their interventions. Bolivia said true consensus decision-making would avoid a repeat of the situation in Copenhagen where a small number of countries “at 3 in the morning” came up with an agreement that they then “arm twisted” others to sign on to. India pointed to the consensus at the recent Convention on Biological Diversity COP. “Consensus is good for the global environment,” he said. Saudi Arabia said there is “no reason to abandon” the principle of consensus. PNG then took the floor to reiterate the suggestion was not to abandon consensus, but to vote when consensus breaks down.

We should hear how this consultation is going in a few days. No matter whether by consensus or not, if progress is not made here in Cancun there is a real concern that the negotiations will be seen as irrelevant. And this at a time when 2010 is going into the books as the second warmest year on record.

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