Final Thoughts on Poznan: Mexico, Al Gore and CDM Reform

Final Thoughts on Poznan: Mexico, Al Gore and CDM Reform

By now, the conference halls in Pozna? are probably ghost towns, the coat racks emptied, and the once buzzing coffee machines silent. I myself am back stateside, slowly readjusting to a diet composed of significantly fewer potatoes, beets, and cabbage, trying to wrap my mind around the last 24 hours at the U.N. climate change negotiations in Poland, the final outcomes of COP14, and what all this means for next year and climate action.

The last 24 hours in Pozna? were a blur of packing, anxiety, negotiations, and flurried emails with one-line notes like "Art. 9 -- finalized NO DESICION!!!!!" in the subject.

Amidst all the last minute commotion, it seems that one of the most important developments of the entire event, and in recent international climate negotiations more broadly, flew under the radar. In a historic move, Mexico announced that it would take on specific GHG emission reduction targets -- 50 percent below 2002 levels by 2050 -- making it one of the first developing countries to voluntarily do so. Mexico plans to meet the target by developing a domestic cap-and-trade system before 2012 to cut emissions from certain sectors.

Mexico's announcement is important because it highlights the leadership role that developing countries must take in the negotiations moving forward, and demonstrates at least one model for doing so. It also fundamentally turns the traditional Non-Annex I negotiating position on its head, from "We can't and we won't" to "We can, and here's how."

Some credit for this announcement is probably owed to the work done by California and the WCI to promote platforms for collaboration with Mexico and Canada. As the new U.S. administration looks forward to building international consensus on shared responsibilities in 2009, there are many lessons to be learned from the foundations of trust that Gov. Schwarzenegger and others have carefully laid.

Perhaps somewhat overshadowing Mexico's announcement, Al Gore descended on Friday with an inspirational speech calling for stricter targets on CO2 concentrations (mentioning Bill McKibben's magic 350ppm number), and putting to rest the divides between developed and developing countries in the negotiations. While it's unclear how much impact Gore's speech had on the official proceedings, it seemed to energize the attendees, many of whom were running ragged after two weeks of non-stop conferencing.

In addition to Mexico's announcement and Gore's speech, the big news at the end of the Pozna? meetings was Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) reform. While there are still a fair number of changes that can and should be made to improve the CDM, negotiators passed decisions that were a good start. These included decisions that would order the CDM Executive Board to make its processes more transparent, to publish decisions and cite past precedent, and to spell out exactly what issues they have with projects that are put on hold. Project developers like EcoSecurities hope that these changes will begin to help make the CDM process for project approvals more efficient, while further reinforcing the system's environmental integrity.

Despite these incremental advances, many questions remain. These include:

  • -- Funds for adaptation -- Where will the money come from (CDM revenue, JI revenue, AAU auctions?), what percent, and how can the money be legally distributed?
  • -- Mechanisms for technology transfer from developed to developing countries, what defines successful transfer of technologies, and how intellectual property rights will be dealt with in this context
  • -- Sectoral targets, and the extent to which these are perceived negatively by developing countries as a mechanism to force them to take on mandatory caps
  • -- Focusing on MRV -- monitoring, reporting, and verification of emissions data, and building capacity on this amongst developing countries

Of course, the 800-pound gorillas in the room are still China and the U.S. We can expect to see China building a strong negotiating position over the next year based on the measures they have taken to achieve emission reductions -- and comparing these to what the U.S. has done.

Hopefully in turn we will see the U.S. build a strong position of leadership based on our own domestic action, while also advancing an international position that -- acknowledging our reputation for the past eight years -- is both reconciliatory and constructively forges a way forward.

Aimee Barnes is senior manager of U.S. regulatory affiars at EcoSecurities.