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The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún is an opportunity for concrete progress in the international climate change effort. Key elements of success in Cancún include: 1) operational decisions improving the transparency of countries’ actions, and strengthening support for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries; and 2) a clear declaration by parties that their longer-term aim is a legally binding outcome. A Cancún agreement also should reflect individual country pledges and incorporate the temperature and finance goals of the Copenhagen Accord.
One year after the Copenhagen climate summit, parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) face immediate decisions on strengthening key aspects of the multilateral climate system, and issues concerning the future direction of the international effort.
Copenhagen did not produce a legally binding outcome, as many had hoped. The Copenhagen Accord is a political agreement, which most countries have since joined, but which has no formal standing under the UNFCCC. In Cancún, the aim is not a legally binding outcome, but a “balanced package of decisions.” A well-crafted package can deliver tangible progress in the near term despite stalemate over longer-term legal issues. It can effectively open a new phase in the evolution of the climate regime: taking steps to incrementally strengthen key elements of the international architecture, while working toward the goal of a new legally binding outcome.
Key Operational Decisions
Strengthening UNFCCC mechanisms would promote stronger action in the near term, build parties’ confidence, and create a stronger foundation for a future legally binding outcome. Parties can build on both the Bali Action Plan and the Copenhagen Accord with decisions settling fundamental issues in key areas and launching work programs to elaborate the details. Priorities are:
Improving Transparency. Greater transparency around countries’ mitigation actions—and support for developing countries—will strengthen confidence among parties and in the climate regime. An enhanced measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) system should include:
Supporting Mitigation and Adaptation in Developing Countries. A stronger support system should include:
Aiming for a Legally Binding Outcome
Most parties voice support for the goal of new legally binding commitments, but they remain far apart on the specific form and timing of such an outcome. While some want it to bind all major economies, many among that group disagree; while some favor new targets under the Kyoto Protocol with a parallel agreement under the UNFCCC, others prefer a single comprehensive agreement. These differences cannot be bridged in Cancún. Parties should affirmatively declare their intent to work toward a binding outcome, while leaving open all options on specific legal form, including new commitments under Kyoto.
Additional Goals and Pledges
Decisions in Cancun also should:
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