In Cancun, Reason for Optimism


Chinese climate negotiator Su Wei (center) at China's December 1st side event on China's climate actions. 


As the third day of the two-week climate negotiations in Cancun draws to a close, we are seeing reasons for optimism that there will be progress on the issue of countries improving the current system for tracking global greenhouse gas emissions (otherwise known as MRV, for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions).  This was an important issue in the Copenhagen meeting last December, particularly between the United States and the major developing countries, and it led to one of the key agreements in the Copenhagen Accord: that developing countries’ reporting of their emissions and actions would be more frequent and comprehensive in the future, in order to strengthen the global system for tracking emissions.  Advancement in this area is important for improving both the international effort to address rising global greenhouse gas emissions and the efforts of individual countries to understand and improve the effectiveness of their domestic efforts to mitigate emissions.

Perhaps it is the temperate weather of the settings for the “COP”* this year, but we have already begun to see a thawing of developed and developing country positions on this issue.  The US and China report having been in discussions on this issue in the past month, with US negotiator Jonathan Pershing noting progress and China’s chief delegate Su Wei noting a “candid, very open dialogue.”  India has also sought to play a constructive role on the issue of transparency, putting forward a proposal for “international consultations and analysis” (as called for in the Copenhagen Accord) of developed and developing country emissions that would improve the frequency and accuracy of emissions reporting in a facilitative way, without punitive implications.  (See the ClimateWire news article on the Indian proposal here, which includes a link to a letter by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh of India in November to his US counterparts explaining the proposal.)  In a meeting with Chinese NGOs last week, China’s lead negotiator Minister Xie Zhenhua noted that China can accept greater transparency and international consultations and analysis, but these must be non-invasive, non-punitive and facilitative (Chinese news article).    

NRDC has been following the issue of improving global emissions reporting closely.  Although only one of many important issues in these negotiations, we have felt that this was an issue where progress could be made because it is in the mutual and individual interests of countries to improve their understanding of their emissions.  Yesterday, we held a press conference to announce the release of our recommendations for improving countries’ reporting of their emissions and actions in their National Communications to the United Nations Climate Secretariat.  (See this NRDC factsheet detailing our reporting recommendations.)

While a compromise on the issue of improving reporting and transparency will inevitably need to be accompanied by agreements on other key issues like finance and technology for developing countries to address climate change, it is in the best interests of all countries to make progress here because it helps them to improve the effectiveness of their domestic programs to address their emissions and to get credit for the actions they are taking.  In the last five years, for example, China has undertaken an enormous program to improve its energy efficiency and to meet a national goal of reducing its energy intensity, the amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP, by twenty percent from 2006 to 2010, and also boosted its renewable energy deployment.  (For more details, see our factsheet on China’s clean energy efforts.)  Improving its reporting of its efforts will enable China to gain broader international recognition for its efforts to address climate change.  (See my colleague Barbara Finamore’s blog post on this point here as well as China Dialogue’s interview with Minister Xie last week in which he emphasized China’s efforts to increase its communications on its actions).

As part of its next five year plan, China has indicated that it will take these efforts even further by setting carbon intensity reduction targets nationally and at the local level (in order to meet its 40-45 percent carbon intensity reduction target for 2020), establishing 13 low carbon cities and provinces to serve as a model for sustainable development, and is seriously considering adopting market mechanisms like a carbon tax and a pilot cap and trade system to further push forward investment in clean energy technologies and away from dirty fossil fuels, particularly coal.  In order to implement all of these policies, China and other developing countries will need accurate, robust data on their greenhouse gas emissions.  For their part, developed countries should be prepared to provide the funding and capacity building to ensure that domestic countries can develop the institutional capacity within their governments to prepare more frequent and comprehensive assessments of their emissions and mitigation actions.

We are still early in the climate negotiations, and many have noted that the negotiations this year may suffer from a lack of ambition, in contrast to the sky-high expectations of last year’s Copenhagen negotiations.  However, as long as countries make steady progress in working out the details of agreements that are in all countries’ interests, we have reason for guarded optimism that we will see some important outcomes in the next two weeks.

* I.e., the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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