Low Profile and Low Expectations at Cancun, but an interesting twist

The Conference of the Parties (COP) 16 for international climate change negotiations in Cancun enters its second week, and unlike last year’s Copenhagen, the profile has been very subdued.  Primarily that is because expectations are significantly lower going into this negotiating session than existed at last year’s Copenhagen meeting.

Even before the US failed to pass a comprehensive climate change law, the best that most hoped for at Cancun was to try and find any breakthrough to getting an official successor treaty to Kyoto that the major industrialized countries (except the US) and the developing world could agree upon, trying to create something more binding through the framework treaty than what was agreed upon in the Accord.  Nothing like this has happened yet, and most delegates seem to be looking to next year’s COP 17 in Durban, South Africa for any real breakthroughs in this realm.  Whatever does or does not happen, the Kyoto Protocol expires under its own terms in 2012 and the world is looking for certainty going forward.  Businesses in Europe are arguing for some certainty at least with respect to the use of offsets in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

One other problem has arisen in that the Republican leadership of the US Senate is calling on the US to back away from its climate change adaptation funding to poorer developing countries, which it agreed to in last year’s Copenhagen Accord.  I don’t expect any money to actually get cut at this time, but this is an ominous signal of further retreat from international engagement, and it has shaken up some of the Cancun delegates.

Despite low expectations, there has been one interesting development of note.  Many countries are coalescing around the idea of going outside of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change to use the Montreal Protocol to try and cap some of the most potent greenhouse gases (the “HCFC’s).  All major countries, including the US are already parties to this relatively successful treaty designed to preserve stratospheric ozone, and it would be possible to make some real reductions just in this area.  Interestingly, it has been suggested that the EPA can use the domestic authorization of this treaty (Section 115 of the Clean Air Act) to regulate all greenhouse gases, though the EPA has not indicated whether or not it believes it could do this or would try.

Stay tuned for discussion of what finally comes from this year.