THE Cancun agreements “mark a new era in international cooperation on climate change”, concluded Mexico's Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who presided over the two-week UN Climate Change Conference recently held in Mexico.

A series of agreements on finance, technology, adaptation and forest protection have emerged in Cancun. These can create the basis of a future global treaty on climate change.

The 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties signatory to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met at the Moon Palace beach resort in Cancun. The conference had two parallel texts, one covering the Kyoto Protocol and the other the ad hoc working group for Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA), which includes everything else. The US, which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, only deals with the LCA which was, in fact, created especially so that the US would come on board in Bali three years ago. Developing countries, including Pakistan, were very keen to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive in Cancun, the only legally binding instrument to control industrial country emissions (albeit by not more than five per cent).

Despite an announcement by Japan's new government that it would not agree to a second commitment period “under any circumstance”, this track has been kept alive for now. Whether there will be a second commitment period from 2012 onwards will be decided next year in Durban. However, countries were urged to close what is called the gigatonne (of carbon emissions) gap between their proposed cuts and what the science shows is needed.

After difficult negotiations, a framework on climate change adaptation was finally agreed upon and a green fund created. In Copenhagen, rich countries had pledged that they would contribute up to $100bn dollars by 2020. Pakistan's proposal on climate finance was adopted by the G77 group (of which it is an active member) and then by the Cancun summit's plenary (with some amendments). According to Malik Amin Aslam, former minister of state for environment and an expert on climate finance who was in Cancun, “the Green Climate Fund should move the climate debate forward”. The UNFCCC still has to identify the sources of the money that will form the Green Climate Fund and agree on rules of distribution.

There are proposals that international aviation and shipping be taxed for their carbon emissions and that subsidies on fossil fuels should be redirected to this fund. Developed countries would like to see the carbon market play a bigger role and say that funding must come from a mix of private and public sectors. The US would like the World Bank as the fund's trustee but developing countries insist that it should be set up within the UN system. There already exists a smaller fund called the UNFCCC's Adaptation Fund, for which developing countries are seeking a bigger role. Pakistan's lead negotiator, Farrukh Iqbal Khan, is the head of this fund. According to him, “we were expecting a decision on finance and the creation of an international fund. This will be an important mechanism. Developing countries are very clear that they want this fund to be linked to the (UNFCCC's) Adaptation Fund”.

Unfortunately, Pakistan's bid to change the definition of vulnerability and thus be amongst the priority countries in line for climate aid was thwarted. The 'highly vulnerable' group could not reach a consensus. Agreements over which countries are most vulnerable to climate change and arrangements to compensate countries for permanent loss and damage have thus been left to be resolved in the coming year. “There is still a lot to be worked out on adaptation. Substantial funding is absolutely essential,” commented the coordinator of the international NGO, CARE. “But for now this agreement is good news for poor communities most affected by climate change.”

After three years of negotiations the Cancun agreements provided a basis for combating deforestation. The keys to achieving the newly agreed goal of reversing forest loss by paying developing countries to conserve forest cover are good governance and the protection of rights, biodiversity and natural forests. The safeguards embedded in the agreements on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) obliges countries to ensure these outcomes.

“There are many safeguards in the REDD agreement but in addition we will need proper monitoring, reporting and verification,” explained Nasir Mahmood, the Inspector General of Forests who was present in Cancun. “REDD will be implemented on a country basis and emissions from forests, which act as carbon sinks, will be calculated at national levels.” Pakistan is currently in the REDD readiness phase and several workshops have been held conducted this year to train forest officials and sensitise the media and NGOs.

Pakistan will start receiving funding to protect its forests (some say our forest cover is less than four per cent) in another year and a half. “We are hardly managing with the existing funds,” pointed out Mr Mahmood. In the second phase the monitoring, reporting and verification will begin. The hope is that the forest department will be overhauled and new legislation will amend existing laws on forests. “Right now, there is no concept of carbon rights,” Mr Mahmood added. “Now that the Cancun agreements have approved of REDD, we shall see a different way of looking at forests. Of course the fear is there that forest lands will start being bought by corporations and governments, and marginalised people who live on these lands will be pushed out. Many lessons will be learnt on the ground as the scheme is implemented. For now, the major decisions on how the scheme will be funded and how the safeguards and deforestation will be monitored remain unresolved.”

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