From Tianjin to Cancun: Seeking common ground on climate

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Climate change is a serious challenge to the whole world in the 21st Century. As the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last year failed to reach any legally-binding treaty for the years beyond 2012, hopes are high for the forth-coming Cancun conference in Mexico in November.

"People all hope that substantial progress can be made at Cancun Conference, and parties can arrive at legally binding agreements. But based on the current situation, there are still a lot of differences," said He Jiankun, director of Low Carbon Energy Lab, Tsinghua University.

In He's views, developing countries will be hoping to continually bring out agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, deals on targets of carbon emission cut by industrial nations after 2012, and deals for developing countries to effectively join the move.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

"A main problem now is that the United States and some other developed countries are trying to cancel the Kyoto Protocol and play down their responsibilities. They want to discuss the responsibilities with the developing countries only under the UNFCCC. And this will blur the differences between developing and developed countries," said He Jiankun.

A conflict of interest and responsibility in terms of emission reduction for developing countries and industrial nations has been a dominating issue at the Copenhagen conference. And it is not likely to subside soon.

As a final effort before the Cancun conference, climate change talks were hosted in Tianjin, north China, in October to smooth away disagreements and prepare for the talks in Mexico. Some 3,000 people from signatories and non-governmental organizations gathered in China to seek common ground and set agenda for the Cancun talks.

No agreements have been reached as to how industrial nations provide funding for developing countries to combat climate change, or quota allocations on greenhouse emission for developed and developing countries. Hence any legally binding deal is still out of sight.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCC, admitted in Tianjin that there will always be a differentiation between developing and developed countries.

"The growth of the developing countries do have an increasing opportunity to contribute to mitigation in a global effort, which is not to say that they should pay for that mitigation," she noted, adding that there would be a "common but differentiated responsibilities" for developing and developed countries.

The Tianjin negotiations aimed to set the tone for the Cancun conference in November so that all the latest progress on climate change will be zoomed in in Mexico. However, given the fact that negotiations pertain to some essential national interests, insiders say the talk process will be long and arduous. And lack of action on the part of the industrial nations in tackling climate change is also blamed.

Su Wei, head of China delegation at the UN climate change talks, said: "Industrial nations are not active at all in setting their quota for emission reduction. Even for existing targets, such as 30 percent set by the European Union, or 17 percent by the Unites States up to the year 2020, they are far from the expectations of developing countries or the Copenhagen talks."

Funding would be a key element for any substantial results at Cancun conference. It is also crucial in rebuilding the trust between developed and developing countries. In addition, providing funding for the developing countries to tackle climate change is the obligations of industrial nations stipulated in the UN Convention.

During the Tianjin talks, the European Union pledged 2.4 billion euro to help developing countries to establish an adaptive mechanism. But the Umbrella Group including the U.S. has not meted out any concrete figure. Nonetheless, many delegates are optimistic about this.

Li Yan, project director with Greenpeace, said: "industrial nations would be more concerned about whether the money is used properly. These questions need to be answered on the road to Cancun."

Many insiders believe that there is certain basis for the international community to negotiate on emission reduction, capital arrangement and technological transfer. As long as industrial nations demonstrate their sincerity, there could be periodical results at Cancan talks, despite its complexity.

"In Cancun conference, agreements on funding might be reached. Some parties have already made their pledge on the 30-billion-dollar initial fund." said He Jiankun.

China made its position clear in November last year, to cut carbon dioxide per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level. This is another step China takes of its own accord since it reduced CO2 emission by 46 percent from 1990 to 2005.

"The Chinese government has made its promise on carbon mitigation," said Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of National Development and Reform Commission during the Tianjin talks.

Due to differences in population, natural resources and economic development, every country has its own special reality to face. There is still much divergence among countries in negotiations.

"If we put aside our differences and seek common ground, there might be some phased outcome in Cancun." said Su Wei.

The UNFCCC came into force in 1994. It aims to prevent "dangerous" human interference with the climate system. A total of 192 countries have ratified the framework. However, the European Union, the Umbrella Group, China and Group 77, Group Small Island, and the most undeveloped countries, have made up a complicated negotiation system with various interests and appeals.

"From the 1992 UNFCCC and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, to the 2007 Bali Road Map and the Copenhagen Conference, our human society has made their efforts on the long road of coping with Climate Change. We should cherish our achievements and continue to move forward based on that. We can't deviate from the principles," said He Jiankun.

The time for dealing with climate change is running out and if countries do not come to common decisions and common actions the fate for all will be worse, warned Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCC.

The year 2010 has witnessed strong earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China, as well as severe droughts and devastating mudslides in China, deadly floods in Pakistan. Natural disasters of unprecedented scale have struck the Earth, killing thousands of people, and making tens of thousands homeless.

Climate change is already a pressing reality. Only through global efforts could the humanity slow down the trend and save planet Earth. Differences aside, the upcoming UN conference slated for November 29 to December 10 in Cancun, Mexico is bound to be an important meeting that might change the outlook of both developing and industrial countries alike.

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