Cancun Resurrects Multilateral Process, says CIEL: UN Climate Negotiations Catalyzing New Process Forward for Climate Agreement

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CIEL today said a package of decisions reached in climate talks in Cancun reaffirmed the multilateral process and made important steps forward in that process. While the compromise falls short of what is ultimately needed, the agreement resurrects the multilateral process and has some of the main elements necessary for moving forward.

As climate talks ended today with an important package of decisions, the Center for International Environmental Law applauded the outcome as a reaffirmation of the multilateral process. Parties meeting here took important practical steps forward, including mandates to establish a new climate fund, develop guidelines on reporting, and establish a global mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation. Countries also took decisions on adaptation, technology, and capacity building.

While key provisions of this compromise fall short of what is ultimately needed, the agreement has some of the main elements necessary for moving forward. There is much more work to do, both to develop what has been agreed upon in Cancun and to further negotiate a comprehensive climate agreement. The next Conference of the Parties to the climate convention meets a year from now in Durban, South Africa.

According to Steve Porter, Director of CIEL’s Climate Program, “Multilateralism is very much alive: countries are back in the sandbox and now they must keep playing.”

The “Cancun Package” represents a “trust, but verify” attitude on actions to address climate change, including guidelines on monitoring, reporting and verification of their actions. “Nations have recognized that commitments must be more than aspirational goals,” said CIEL attorney Niranjali Amerasinghe. “Now that the basic foundation has been laid, we have a responsibility to keep negotiators’ feet to the fire and ensure a comprehensive agreement with environmental integrity that is accountable to the global community.”

Countries included a milestone agreement on the role of tropical forests in addressing climate change, including limited provisions on rights, indigenous peoples and safeguards to help prevent environmental and social harms. “By recognizing that rights and safeguards are a key component to an agreement, REDD was able to move forward, helping lead to the package we now have before us,” said senior attorney Kristen Hite. “While provisions could be stronger, we have clear affirmation for what we’ve been saying all along: you can’t reduce deforestation without including indigenous peoples, rights, and biodiversity.”

The agreement establishes a new climate fund and sets up a committee to design the details, including social and environmental safeguards. It also recognizes that well-intentioned efforts to address climate change can result in adverse impacts, and establishes a new process to consider those impacts. Importantly, the agreement explicitly affirms that human rights must be respected in climate activities. "It is critical to include human rights protections in the international climate framework,” says attorney Alyssa Johl. “The Parties have taken an important step in recognizing their existing human rights obligations to safeguard the most vulnerable from the adverse impacts of climate change and climate change-related actions."

While an important step forward, there are also many things that still need to be decided, including concrete, country-specific targets for emissions reductions, how to capitalize the new climate fund, and how to move rights and safeguards beyond aspirational words into concrete actions. “Countries have invested serious efforts here to avoid planetary crisis, but there is much more to do and they need to be on their A-game as we move forward,” said Porter. “All eyes are on South Africa.”

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