COP16, the 2010 Climate Negotiations in Cancun

Guest post by Mary Gilbert

[Mary Gilbert is the representative of Quaker Earthcare Witness at the United Nations. This role led her to observe the recent climate negotiations (COP16) in Cancun, Mexico. Her report, written for Befriending Creation, the Quaker organization’s newsletter, is reproduced her with her permission. The links here are added to provide background information. If you discern any opinions lurking in the linked material, they are not those of Mary Gilbert, nor of the editor of this blog.]

Ixchel, the ancient Mayan jaguar goddess …goddess of the moon,…(and) of reason, creativity, and weaving” was invoked by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC*), at the opening of the latest UN climate negotiations (COP16) in Cancun, Mexico.

Ixchel turned out to be a fitting symbol for this year’s conference, where the negotiating atmosphere was much more positive and participatory than last year’s contentious and frustrating summit in Copenhagen. Last year I and many other registered observers had very limited access to the plenary sessions. The difference in atmosphere this time was due to Mexico’s Patricia Espinoza, who, as the new President of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), made sure that observers like me and my colleagues from Quaker Earthcare Witness could attend every plenary meeting, right up to the final meetings on the final day.

Lat year many countries were infuriated by the Copenhagen Accord and the process which produced it. The Accord was drawn up behind closed doors by an invited group of heads of state, in a process external to accepted UN process. The plenary first saw the document at 3AM on the Saturday after the sessions were scheduled to close on Friday, and they were asked to adopt it as if they had participated in its creation. Espinoza repeatedly promised “no secret meetings” and “no surprise text” in Cancun, and she kept her word. She set up “contact groups” consisting of one rich and one poor country, for difficult issues. Any text that appeared for negotiation had been discussed and agreed by those parties and brought to the plenary in a timely manner.

Over our two weeks in Cancun we saw a real change in mood, from angry suspicion, “…we will see if you are for real!” to lengthy standing ovations when Espinoza entered. A palpable sense of trust had grown. Even low-lying countries and the small island states — some of which are already making plans to move whole populations because of sea level rise and storm events –, mountainous countries losing their glaciers, and nations already experiencing serious drought, were on board with the compromises. Only Bolivia remained outside the agreement, mostly because the agreed document endorses a rise of up to 2 deg. C, and if industrial nations live up to current pledges we can expect an increase of 4 deg. C. Bolivia called this genocide and ecocide. (For a full, clear statement of Bolivia’s reasons look here.)

I think Bolivia is right on all points, and although they went along with the compromises many other nations also actually agree with Bolivia. It’s that old dilemma: is compromising to achieve something not-so-bad worth giving up what you believe would be best if it hasn’t a chance.


Is the Kyoto Protocol (KP) dead?

The main area of contention was whether the KP will continue into its scheduled second phase in 2012. Under the Protocol China and India are considered non-industrialized and therefore have no reduction requirements. With the US and those two countries not participating in emissions reductions under the KP, it covers only 23%. Early in the sessions, Japan announced that it would “under no circumstances” sign onto a continuation. By the end of the two weeks, pressured by the US working behind the scenes, Canada and the Russian Federation had also said they would not sign. Others in the “Umbrella Group”** have said they are “not opposed to a second phase,” but refer to the KP in the past tense, i.e. “The KP was an important step…”

The KP is multilateral, based on an agreed determination of what the planet needs to keep supporting us all. Countries share the responsibility for emissions reductions as they are able, using binding pledges to spell out their commitments. Details for Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) are being worked out.

The Copenhagen Accord calls for bilateral treaties, operates with no reference to an overall goal, has no MRV, and no binding pledges. It’s a recipe for probable global disaster.

Where will the money come from?

There are two funding sources:

The EU has a “Fast Track” program to help countries with adaptation (living with what can’t be changed) and mitigation (making the problem less severe). Complaints are:

  • Most of the funding is loans rather than grants.
  • Some promised money has not appeared.
  • Much more funding is allotted for mitigation (which will help donor countries too) than for adaptation (which can save lives but not help donors).
  • Funding is not necessarily “new money” but has sometimes been switched from other help programs.

A new Green Fund for longer term help, created and administered by the UNFCCC is coming along. It will operate through the World Bank until details get worked out, but then will operate independently. Currently there is no source of funding solidly identified for the Green Fund.

Is there a “Shared Vision”?

This is supposed to be a “chapeau,” or framing paragraph for the body of the outcome document. Nothing has been agreed upon. Some say, “There is no shared vision.”


This is a market-driven (red flag!) way to pay countries for keeping their forests, which absorb carbon from the air and therefore aid in slowing climate change. REDD+ theoretically adds safeguards for human forest-living communities and for the forests themselves, but there are serious doubts about these safeguards. REDD+ will probably go through, since many countries who could receive money do not oppose it.

Where do we say “Enough?”

We now have a .8° C rise in global temperature, and we already have an increase in disastrous weather events. A few nations, including Bolivia and the Small Island States, want to see an agreed top limit of 1°. Others are calling for 1.5°. Language in the KP process refers to a permissible “less than 2°” rise, but current emission reduction pledges, if they are met, would lead to a 4° or more rise by the end of the century. Business as usual could bring us to a 7° rise, at which point we would all be dead. (See summary of UNEP Emissions Gap Report)


Judy Lumb, also of QEW, and I became fast friends, in both senses, with three Bolivian Quakers, Juan Yujra Ticona, Ruben Hilare and Magaly Quispe, who were part of our delegation. We are now “family.” Look for their reports soon.

A symbolic planting of 193 trees, one for each country, took place on the grounds of the Moon Palace where negotiations were held. The planners provided national flags for each tree, and nationals from each country did the planting. Judy planted the tree for Belize, and the Bolivians planted the tree for Bolivia.

I didn’t get to plant the US tree, but I did meet Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and had a photo op with Amy and Judy.

Twice I walked in street demonstrations with the landless farmers’ movement, Via Campesina, and other grass roots groups. Some of these folks, for good reasons, were very hostile about the negotiations, and there was some violent rhetoric.

We attended several Fossil of the Day ceremonies where, with song and pageantry, an MC awarded shiny cups to the 3 countries that had done the most that day to block progress. Canada was the grand winner at the end of the two weeks.

We found and used a meditation room, and later a meditation garden enhanced by the sound of falling water. Our group of 5 was not able to gather with the other Quakers who were there, but we did run into them individually.


The UNFCCC will continue to have a series of meetings during the year, and COP17 will take place in Durban, S Africa, in December, 2011. At that time we will find out whether the US has been able to kill the Kyoto Protocol, whether more climate-related tragedies will lead to more support for real accommodation and mitigation, how much greenhouse gas has been added to the atmosphere, whether the Green Fund is ready to operate, and so on.

Whether we like it or not, our task is to turn our own countries around. As US and Canadian citizens, as well as earth-dwellers in a beloved earth community, we have a lot of work before us.


* United Nations Framework Convention on climate Change, formed in 1992 at Rio, and to which the US is a signatory. The UNFCCC created the Kyoto Protocol, to which the US is not a signatory.

** The Umbrella Group is Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Russian Federation, and Kazakhstan.

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