Author Archives: agastyamuthanna

The Cancun Agreement

My final blog post is going to a quick take on the outcome of the negotiations. On balance I think the negotiations were a success. However this is a very relative measure that is more a result of the abysmal failure of the Copenhagen round of negotiations and the feeling I had during the initial week of the conference that the entire process was on the edge of collapse.
Not taking away form the conference’s agreement I shall quickly go over what it included.
The central part of the agreement included points in the Copenhagen accord (that was never an official UNFCCC output as it was not accepted by “consensus” of all countries). One of these key carry-overs was the pledge of 100 billion US$ per year from developed to developing countries by 2020. This part of the text gives both sides something to hold onto. Developing countries like the entire money (The idea of money flowing into their coffers is always a good thing). The deal mentions that the money will be “mobilized” which hints at the us eof private setor capital as well (which developed countries like). The agreement mentions the creation of a fund through which some of the money will flow, this fund however will be independent at some level form the COP. This is a situation which gives something to all the stakeholders.
Another key part of the deal was an agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). This includes extensive safeguards to make sure that indigenous forest dwellers are treated fairly. This was one of the major requests of the non-governmental stakeholders at of the process.
The final two parts of the agreement deal with technology transfer (which is extremely important for all developing countries especially India) and a new framework to deal with adaptation (another point that is very beneficial for Developing countries who are in many cases already facing the consequences of climate change). All these paper promises need to be implemented in the real world. Which is another astronomical difficulty – there is going to be a lot of load shifting between developed countries.
The Cancún agreement missed out some important topics. Moves towards a deal on shipping and aircraft fuels, unpopular with oil producers, fell out of the text. They took with them—quite unfairly—worthy proposals in nearby paragraphs for new work on agriculture, a greenhouse-gas emitter on a par with deforestation.
The big countries got the specific things that they were after. China wanted not to be blamed for a failure, as it was after Copenhagen. America wanted pledges made in that summit’s accord to be recognised, plus progress on verification.
So that is my analysis of what happened, and while this deal is alright from an environmental perspective the key is it si Amazing form a UNFCCC perspective. The agreement has kept the UNFCCC process alive and kicking, while walking on an extremely narrow tight-line between developed and developing countries. It is a massive achievement in raw diplomacy.

Share via email

Me at Cancun

I’m going to start this blog post with a summary of the people I have met, the events I have attended and what I have done. I shall start with the superficial. Over the last week I have met several “cool, famous” people. These have almost by definition been extremely short conversation. The first two people I met were The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC secretariat, Christiana Figueres, and the President of the 16th Conference of the Parties (this one) Patricia Espinosa. This was at the initial party thrown by the Mexican Governemnt to, and was nothing more than an introduction and a quick photo.
On Wednesday, I happened to sit down for lunch at a table right next Dr Rajendra Pachauri. We had a quick chat about an uncle of mine he knows and what events he was going to be at COP16. The last was a meeting with Lord Stern, the author of the Stern report.
This meeting was set up by the British Council, and was a mind blowing experience. Six champions got to sit with lord Stern for over an hour discussing the current situation of the negotiations as well as our projects. Lord stern is the rare celebrity who is extremely grounded, well travelled and sparkling with intelligence. He gave all of us extremely relevant feedback about our projects and on many occasions whipped out old business cards he had collected, of people that he had met and who could have a direct impact on helping our projects.
The British Council also set up a virtual skype meeting with Champions from around the world. Champions from over 20 countries participated, and me and Ding (the Chinese champion) filled everyone in on what was happening and discussed International policy with the Champions for an hour.
My attitude to this entire COP was two-fold on one hand I wanted to help the Govt. delegation a s much a I possibly could, which I did consistently, on the other hand I wanted to use this as a 2 week Crash course on climate policy. I have always read a lot about climate policy, and tried to keep abreast with the latest policy proposals. At this COP with all the side events (events organized by different governments , research institutes and NGO’s) which literally had the who’s-who of climate policy speaking I had an opportunity to consilidate everything I knew and learn a lot more.
I sat in on events ranging from the role of the UN in climate negotiations to presentations of the most recent research papers on the Carbon Budget (the Idea that each country has a specific amount it is allowed to emit, which it should not exceed) . This was an amazing learning experience for me. The interesting part is that every single side event is available for free video streaming of the UNFCCC website (http://unfccc.int/) .

Regarding my work with the Indian Delegation, over the Summer I interned at the office of the minister at the with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India. As a result I knew a lot of people coming with the Indian delegation this year, and managed to get myself a role in the delegation, helping out in anyway I could. This was a very interesting experience and through this I got to meet several extremely interesting Indians. I met several young and enthusiastic Indian PhD and Masters students and older and extremely passionate scientists.

Share via email

The Debate

We were welcomed to the official meeting at Cancun with a party thrown by the Mexican Govt. on Monday night. The atmosphere was amazing. Last year the equivalents event organised by the Govt. of Denmark was full of Diplomats sipping Champagne slowly for 30 minutes before politely excusing themselves. The Mexican event  was a real party. Men on brought invited us in to a a beautiful open air venue which opened to the gulf of Mexico. The food was prepared by Mexico’s most famous Chef, and the bar served unlimited drinks of every imaginable sort. Most country delegations were present, as were the President of this years Conference as well as the head of the UNFCCC secretariat. The music was outstanding and everyone was relaxed.

It was difficult for me to be anything but optimistic. The negotiations on the first day had been relatively upbeat, and I was excited. Unlike COP15 I came into the process expecting absolutely nothing, since all the negotiators I had spoken to this time around have emphasised the focus on smaller scale technical matters this time around. It was a good night. Infact I have a picture somewhere (which I will certainly try and put up) of me with my arms around the two most important peole at the conference – the president and the head of the Secretariat! Which is no mean task given the approximately 1000 people there.

On to more serious news. The next day was a disaster. Japan stood up during the COP to say in very straight language (Which is extremely rare in conferences such as this one) that it would not sign any extension of the Kyoto Proposal until both the US and China agree to legally binding Carbon emission limits. I should not have been as surprised as I was – since they have hinting they would this for a while now, it was just the stark non-ambiguous language of the delegate that shocked me.  This leaves everyone in a bit of confusion. If the Kyoto protocol is not extended, the CDM mechanism that has brought billions of dollars to developing countries like India and China will be scrapped. If this happens it will be almost impossible to get developing countries to endorse a deal of any type.

Maybe this years conference will not be as successful as I believed in my slightly drunk state on Monday night. With Key countries like Canada and Australia furiously Backtracking on their already vague and unenforceable promises, and Japan promising not to do anything unless China and the US commit to legally enforceable Carbon emission reductions.

Is everything so black and white? Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, It probably will be near impossible to convince China to agree to legally binding emission reductions. Japans many domestic adaptation and mitigation actions have been forgotten, and Japans action is being used as scapegoate by countires like Canada and Australia, who are equally against a deal of any sort. This is a bleak statement. But is everything as bad as this seems? This is not the entire story.

For one thing there seems to be a deals on REDD (an international anti deforestation scheme) and a climate fund. These two vitally important points ,if agreed upon, could lead to a solid foundation for a more thorough deal at South Africa next year.

Share via email

The Story from Cancun (COP 16)

Hi everyone, my name is Agastya Muthanna. I have been a British Council Climate Champ since 2008. I am in the penultimate year of my Economics degree at the University of Cambridge, and am representing the Indian British Council at the 16th annual United Nations organized meeting on climate change (COP16).

This is the second COP I have attended (the first was last year in Copenhagen) and I cant help but think that perhaps if the first one was here at sunny beautiful Cancun, and not cold and crowded Copenhagen we may have had a more concrete result. The weather is perfect, and the conference is extremely well organized.

On this first post I’d like to lay out hat I would like to see, from a policy perspective. My next post shall be more personal.

The Indian Environmental Minister Mr Ramesh summarised the topics he felt agreement are expected. These were, first, the establishment of a green fund that will collect and allocate Climate finance, second, an agreement on meeting adaptation needs. His third expectation is an endorsement of Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), and on transparency issue concerning measurement ,reporting and verification (MRV)

I’m going to end this post with a quick summary of what I would like to see: The global climate meetings in Mexico in late 2010 and South Africa in 2011 should put much more emphasis on the links between climate action and development. Climate change should never be used as a reason for condemning the world’s poor to continued poverty. But their road to riches should take the climate into account. The cities where ever more people will be living need to grow in ways that don’t exacerbate the problem; the farms where ever fewer people are having to produce ever more food must be far better supplied with know-how, improved crops and insurance against the adverse effects that are sure to come. Development needs to be climate-ready, even if it cannot be climate-proof.

Second, new thinking is needed on how to change the energy mix that the world uses. Making fossil-fuel energy more expensive has so far not delivered much by way of controlling emissions. The better way is to make clean, renewable energies cheaper. Research and development can be part of that solution. But so can a willingness by banks and donors to increase the market for such energy systems. Buying in bulk is a tried and tested way of bringing down prices.

Such assistance and subsidy have the attraction of a built-in cut-off. As soon as increased demand and improved technology make renewables cheaper than fossil alternatives, the desire to generate energy through the burning of coal and oil will seem perverse, and the transition to a future beyond fossil fuels will become irreversible.

Finally, I would like to see more emphasis on using public policy and funds to increase private finance. Private finance makes up the bulk of all investments in Green technology, and mitigation (the ratio of private to public investment is currently around 5:1). There has been virtually no discussion about innovative measure to increase private capital flows, which can increase dramatically if given the right incentives.

Share via email