Experts: Cancun could bring important steps forward

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The upcoming UN climate change conference (COP 16) in Cancun, Mexico will probably not yield a new binding climate treaty, but will provide an opportunity for international negotiators to progress on several key issues, a U.S. climate change expert has told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"I think the most important thing is making concrete progress on a number of the operational issues that will strengthen the international architecture and help promote stronger action in the near term," said Elliot Diringer, vice president of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"There's a whole set of issues -- finance, transparency, technology, adaptation, forestry -- where the parties can take concrete steps now and begin building or strengthening institutions to promote action, and these things will deliver stronger action in the near term, as well as provide a stronger foundation for binding outcomes down the road," Diringer said.

COP 16 will be held from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10 and will gather representatives from some 180 countries to discuss climate change issues in the hopes that they can move ongoing negotiations forward.


One area where Diringer believes that operational progress can be made is technology transfer. The transfer of innovative technologies for climate change mitigation and adaptation to the developing countries that need them is already happening, but negotiators seek to create more formal mechanisms for doing so.

"Parties are talking about creating a technology executive committee and establishing a network with a technology center and regional centers," Diringer said. "I think they probably can agree on the basics there and that it will take more time to get things really up and running but I think they can agree on establishing those mechanisms."

An issue that has been frequently discussed by climate negotiators is how to handle the rights to intellectual property ( IP) for technologies that are designed to mitigate carbon emissions and provide adaptation to a changing climate. Many of these technologies are invented and manufactured in developed countries, thus raising the question of how these privately owned technologies could be proliferated in developing countries in a non-commercial manner.

Diringer said that he does not expect any significant results from Cancun on IP, but added that he is not sure if the issue is as problematic as it's often portrayed to be.

"I think there's a lot of confusion around the whole issue of IP, I think that intellectual property is not as big an obstacle to technology transfer in the climate arena as many people seem to believe," he said. "I think if you look at the example of China's incredible advances in the clean technology field, that is a clear case demonstrating that technology is transferring through established commercial channels."

Diringer also explained that the World Trade Organization (WTO) might be a better setting for discussions of IP than COP 16.

"Under the WTO there are agreements around intellectual property and there are arrangements or procedures," he said. "If countries want to alter the standard arrangements around intellectual property the WTO lays out processes for doing that and really that's the place, if we were going to be cutting any deals on IPR (intellectual property rights) that would be the place to do it."


Another issue likely to be integral to the Cancun negotiations is providing finance for developing countries to combat climate change.

"It's pretty essential, it's essential both because there is a genuine need for it, and because it has a very high symbolic value to many countries," Diringer said.

At COP 15 in Copenhagen, despite failing to negotiate a legally binding climate deal, developed countries pledged to mobilize funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Pledges are comprised of fast-start funding of 30 billion U.S. dollars by 2012 and long-term funding of 100 billion per year in U.S. dollars by 2020.

The long-term funding outlined in Copenhagen would come from public and private sources. Diringer said that in Cancun, the structure of such public financing and a timeframe for its establishment would likely be on the table.

"The major issue in Cancun on finance is whether and how to establish a new multilateral climate fund and I think that they will agree on the basics there," Diringer said.


Diringer explained that it has been "pretty clear from the start of the year that this isn't the year for a binding outcome."

However, a general statement of the parties' commitment to work toward binding climate goals, Diringer said, would be a feasible and welcome outcome of COP 16.

"We are not in the position now to get agreement among parties on the specifics but we think it would be very important for there to be a clear declaration of intent from countries to continue working toward the objective of binding commitments," he said.

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