Climate and development challenges at Cancun

A guest post by Axel Michaelowa:

This year’s climate summit is held in the Mexican sea resort of Cancun, dominated by a sequence of high-rise hotels on a sandy spit. This “sun and sand” city and the negotiation venue embody the challenges of greeenhouse gas emissions mitigation in an exemplary manner. Despite a balmy 25°C air temperature, air conditioners run at full throttle. The negotiation venue consists of two parts at almost 20 km from the main hotels, necessitating huge fleets of buses running day and night. Spending three hours per day on these buses is not unusual if one wants to participate in one of the external side events.

The development challenge linked to international climate policy is embodied by the host country Mexico. On the one hand, Mexico is member of the OECD and thus should embark on greenhouse gas mitigation. On the other hand, it is looking for international subsidies for a substantial share of its mitigation portfolio. For example, a programme of “green mortgages” for energy efficient new housing is one of the first “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” for which Mexico wants to get financing by the highly industrialized countries. This is unsurprising, given that all developing countries and emerging economies are vying for chunks of the 30 billion $ “fast start” finance for emissions mitigation and adaptation to climate change pledged in Copenhagen. But whether this money will really be “new and additional” is very doubtful. Martin Stadelmann (CIS) presented his analysis of possible baselines for determination of additionality of climate finance at a well-attended side event (see also his CIS Working Paper with Timmons Roberts and Axel Michaelowa). The discussion at this event was dominated by the question whether donor countries in the past correctly reported development assistance for mitigation. Our own research (see Katharina and Axel Michaelowa’s paper on “Coding error or statistical embellishment”) had found serious examples of misreporting, which has now prompted the OECD to ask their member states for a reassessment of their projects.

The main challenge of Cancun is to provide momentum in international climate policy after the high profile failure of the Copenhagen summit in December 2009. Otherwise, the climate negotiations might suffer from “WTO syndrome” – i.e. an increasing irrelevance for the international media and policymakers. But a surprisingly sober mood has prevailed in the first week of negotiations. Issues that had been contentious for several years such as the inclusion of carbon capture and storage in the Clean Development Mechanism were quietly resolved during the first week. Whether the tropical climate of Cancun has softened negotiators’ attitudes or whether this is due to the low-key nature of the conference remains unclear.

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