In the film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman who finds himself living the same day over and over again. The UN climate negotiators have developed a variation on this theme. Once a year they meet and fail to agree on a binding deal that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The variation on Groundhog Day is that they meet in a different city each time.
Well it’s Groundhog Day. Again. This year it’s in Cancun, Mexico. It seems increasingly likely that no binding deal will come out of Cancun and that the North will attempt to scrap the Kyoto Protocol. It also seems likely that some sort of deal will be pushed through on reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). There is a serious danger that REDD will act as greenwash for the North’s failure to reduce emissions dramatically.
I admit it. I wrote the previous three sentences a year ago and just replaced Copenhagen with Cancun.
One benefit of all this is that no one needs to update their positions on REDD. FERN demonstrates that it’s fully understood the Groundhog principle by quoting from a 2009 Accra Caucus press release in its November 2010 issue of EU Forestwatch.
This has been going on for some time. After the Bali conference in 2007, in an article titled “Hurray! We’re Going Backwards!”, George Monbiot quoted a press release from Friends of the Earth to illustrate what had just happened in Bali. The press release was dated 1997:
After eleven days of negotiations, governments have come up with a compromise deal that could … even lead to emission increases. … The highly compromised political deal … is largely attributable to the position of the United States which was heavily influenced by fossil fuel and automobile industry interests.
Here’s a prediction. The press release can be recycled after the Cancun meeting.
There are two more differences between the UN climate negotiations and Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day, the film, is funny. And Phil Connors eventually gets it right and escapes Groundhog Day.
Prelude to Cancun: Tianjin climate talks update
UN climate talks in Tianjin, China, in October 2010, made little progress toward a legally binding agreement in the run-up to Cancun; Parties and observers are now convinced that a legal agreement will be finalised only during the 2011 Conference of the Parties (COP17) in South Africa.
There are now two ‘options’ for a text on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). Discussions mainly focused on clarifying proposals from Bolivia and Saudi Arabia. Bolivia’s intention is to reflect the outcome of the Peoples’ conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which is supported by some Parties and observers, while Saudi Arabia wants to include a reference to geological carbon sequestration and storage in the text. The outcome of the 2009 Copenhagen negotiations are still reflected in ‘option two’ of the REDD text, and the EU has expressed preference to move ahead with this option.
The key challenge on REDD therefore in Cancun will be to incorporate elements of Bolivia’s demands into the option two text, such as focusing on forests as ecosystems rather than as carbon, strengthening environmental and social safeguards and removing references that open the door to financing REDD though offsetting.
By the close of the Tianjin talks, Parties were presented with the draft elements of a ‘balanced package’ for Cancun, including reference to REDD+, which could serve as a ‘roadmap’ towards a legal agreement in 2011. The question now is whether parties will pursue this ‘balanced package’ in order to achieve progress in all areas, or whether an agreement will be reached only for a selected number of topics, which would include REDD. At this stage it is unclear where the majority of support lies among parties.
Notably, the prospect of a REDD agreement without emission reduction targets for developed countries arose in COP15 in Copenhagen. The Accra Caucus response then to governments remains pertinent today: “any agreement on reducing deforestation must be part of a global deal on emissions reductions. If rich countries do not agree to limit their industrial emissions, the world’s forests will be lost.”