As climate talks close, get ready for post-conference blame game


New Mexico Independent, Cancun, Mexico

Since November 29, negotiators and world leaders have been meeting to find consensus on issues such as climate change, carbon emission reductions, adaptation and mitigation. Tagged “COP 16,” the meetings are the 16th annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Now, on the final day of the UN climate talks in Cancún, tensions are high, especially among the press corps, which at this point hears only rumors and off-the-record murmurs. The negotiation meetings are closed, and officials from the United Nations and United States didn’t show for their scheduled press briefings on Friday afternoon.

That said, the public should anticipate that once word breaks and media reports start posting, US officials will pin blame for the failed negotiations on Bolivia’s President Evo Morales.

That’s despite the fact that in almost 20 years of talks, the US has never agreed to legally binding cuts in carbon emissions. Such behavior has led to Russia, Japan and Canada all squirming to get out of the Kyoto Protocol, the second commitment period of which was being negotiated in Mexico.

Since last year’s “failed” UN climate conference, negotiators openly acknowledged that little would come of Cancún’s meetings, despite the clarity of the science on climate change and hopes on the part of many developing countries that action might be taken.

In Cancún, negotiators were to make incremental progress on a handful of issues including the the flow of funds from developed countries (whose emissions have caused climate change) to developing countries that are feeling the impacts of climate change. The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol needed to be hammered out, and many anticipated action on what’s called REDD.

Since 2005, the UNFCCC has been discussing ways to “reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” — a program abbreviated as REDD. REDD projects would work toward protecting forests (which hold carbon and keep it from being released into the atmosphere) and accommodate a market-based carbon trading system whereby private companies or governments meet targets for reducing their carbon emissions by paying for carbon reductions elsewhere in the global economy.

But indigenous groups worldwide, along with the government of Bolivia, have long opposed REDD as a market mechanism for protecting the environment. According to a press conference by the Bolivian government at the beginning of the climate talks, in such a system “Mother Earth is seen as merchandise.”

Before speaking to a crowd of some 5,000 protesters on Thursday, President Morales gave a press conference at the Moon Palace in Cancún, where the talks are being held. He spoke about the connection between capitalism and the destruction of the planet, saying that “either capitalism dies, or Mother Earth dies.”

At the end of his speech, Morales was questioned by members of the press, including a Reuters reporter, who asked if Boliva would support a “balanced set of decisions.” That’s the catchphrase US officials have been using during the negotiations in Mexico  — despite the fact that the US is the only industrialized nation that has refused to agree to cut its carbon emissions.

It will be helpful to remember all of this once press reports come pouring out at the end of the talks in Mexico — and Bolivia is blamed for a lack of progress at COP 16.

Also expect the US to find an ally in its neighbor to the south. COP 16 host country Mexico had come out in strong support of REDD — there are pilot projects there already — and on mid-day on Friday, President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa himself showed up at the Moon Palace, looking ready for business.

Meanwhile, late in the day, Bolivia’s plurinational state sent out a press release calling on developed countries to support a binding agreement, to fulfill the second period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and provide aid (rather than loans or previously appropriated money) for climate adaptation and mitigation.

“Here we have the countries that will suffer most if there are no strong commitments to reduce emissions and global temperatures,” said Pablo Solon, Ambassador to Bolivia and member of the Latin American ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas) group.

“What’s decided in this conference today will impact especially those countries that are represented here,” said Salon. “We call on developed countries to seriously consider the impact of their decisions.”

Laura Paskus is an Albuquerque-based independent writer and editor who is reporting from Cancún as an Earth Journalism Network Climate Media Fellow.

This blogpost originally appeared in the New Mexico Independent on Dec. 10, 2010: