At Cancun Climate Talks, First the Pillars, Then the Roof

November 22, 2010

With less than a week to go until the start of the next round of global climate negotiations, in Cancun, Mexico, climate policymakers see further work on ambitious finance pledges made at the Copenhagen climate talks last year as key to progress towards collective action to avert runaway climate change. Mexico’s ambassador to Washington has stressed the value of such incremental progress. And in one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal landscape, a senior World Bank official told a private meeting at CGD that developing countries are acting on their own to increase climate resilience and to slow emissions growth, without waiting for a global agreement.Yet already low expectations for the Cancun meeting have been further battered by recent electoral gains for climate change skeptics in the United States, the defeat in Canada through controversial parliamentary maneuvers of previously approved climate legislation, and reaffirmation by China’s chief negotiator that so-called emissions transparency conditions would not be acceptable in any green fund.Before these events unfolded, CGD president Nancy Birdsall hosted a private policy breakfast to provide an informal platform for finance officials and other thought leaders on climate finance to share ideas on possible approaches to climate finance.Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, told the group that as a middle income country and the host of the Cancun meeting, Mexico is striving to bridge the gap between high-income and developing countries. Mexico, he said, is working as part of a “troika” with Denmark, the host of the previous climate summit, and South Africa, host of the 2011 climate talks, to ensure a greater continuity of efforts.“Mexico is not taking the hole-in-one approach” that was used in Copenhagen, he said. “If we expect to have an internationally binding agreement on climate change in Cancun we are sure to be disappointed but there is a clear glimmer of hope” that the Cancun meeting will move the issue forward. “A new binding treaty is not an essential foundation for near-term action,” he added.Among the possibilities being explored, he said, is the creation of a new global “Green Fund,” that would have an executive board, a secretariat and a trustee. For this to move forward would require agreement on key issues, including governance, transparency, and accountability. Progress on these issues would in turn help to mobilize the necessary finance, he said.Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s recently appointed special envoy for climate, concurred with the approach. “First the pillars, then the roof,” he said.Steer added that developing countries are increasingly moving to take action on both emissions reductions and climate resilience on their own. He said that while developing countries urgently need a global deal on climate change, “they are certainly not standing around waiting for it.”More than 80% of World Bank client countries have requested support for climate activities -- up from 10% a decade ago, and the bank is now active on climate in 130 countries, Steer said. The old fashioned myth that poor countries need to focus on short-term needs and can’t afford to give priority to climate change is well and truly debunked. “There is remarkable innovation on climate activities throughout the developing world,” he said.Boosted by surprise U.S. support in Copenhagen, rich countries agreed to a so-called fast-start fund worth $10 billion annually between now and 2012, which would be ramped up to $100 billion a year by 2020. The money would go to developing countries to help cut emissions and increase climate resilience. Even before the U.S. elections, however, the international fund-raising effort was not going well.And even assuming that billions of dollars in climate finance can somehow be made available, systems for disbursing aid are woefully inadequate. Birdsall told the policy breakfast that the existing aid architecture is “chaotic” and imposes huge burdens on the recipient countries (see QuODA for more on these problems).First the pillars, then the roof makes sense. But for now even the foundation of a global accord that includes large-scale financial transfers from the rich world to developing countries seems increasingly in doubt.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.