At COP16, UNFCCC Seeks “A New Approach” and USA Looks to Agree on “A Package of Next Steps”

Cross-posted to Daily Kos.

UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres

In her opening remarks at COP16 yesterday, United Nations Climate Chief Christiana Figueres called for a “solid response to climate change, using both reason and creativity.”

Meanwhile, one delegate on the ground reported feeling a strange mix of hope and frustration in the air as the negotiations were about to begin.

Figueres concentrated her remarks on the three issues she sees as the most important reasons why a global climate action deal needs to be reached and why the UNFCCC is the right body to be driving the process:

  1. The latest report by the World Meteorological Organization states that concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere have reached their highest level today since pre-industrial times;
  2. The poorest and most vulnerable nations — whose people are already facing climate impacts — urgently need predictable and sufficient assistance to tackle a life-threatening problem they did not cause;
  3. The multilateral UNFCCC process needs to remain the trusted channel for reaching a global deal on climate change action, or the negotiations could fall apart just as consensus is starting to form among developed nations as to what they are willing to do.

Chief USA Climate Negotiator Jonathan Pershing

As for what the United States is willing to do, the head of the US delegation Jonathan Pershing gave a press briefing on the opening day and said that from the U.S. perspective, “a balanced package is within our reach.”

Pershing described the Copenhagen Accord as “the progress made last year in Copenhagen” saying that “through direct participation of many of the world’s leaders, including President Obama, progress was made on all key elements of the negotiations.”

The head climate negotiator for the United States continued:

“At the heart of the Accord, on the one hand, was a crucial agreement among both developed and developing countries to implement a set of mitigation targets or actions, and to do so in an internationally transparent manner. On the other hand, there were critical provisions for financing for developing countries, in order to support mitigation, adaptation, technology, and forest protection and preservation which is known as REDD in this context. Taken together these two pieces reflect and create a landmark, balanced agreement, which accommodated and created broad support. What we are seeking here in Cancun,” Pershing said, “is a balanced package of decisions that will build on this agreement. Such decisions, which preserve the balance of the Accord, will be a positive and very meaningful outcome. If Parties here are prepared to take the necessary steps forward, I think we can achieve this goal.”

You can read Jonathan Pershing’s entire press briefing including a fairly significant Q&A by clicking here.

So there’s the information. And now, commentary in simple terms, for people who care:

I’m here in Los Angeles while the talks proceed in Cancun. I’m at internet cafe’s mostly, reading emails, tweets and blogs from people on the ground at COP16. Today, I sat reading for hours, just looking for the story. There are so many ways to come at covering these climate talks:

  • The government negotiators: what are they empowered to agree to, and more important perhaps: what have they been instructed by their home governments not to agree to under any circumstances (these are the “deal killers” and we should know what they are);
  • The non-governmental organizations (NGOs): these are the organizations who protect the Earth and indigenous peoples, and their voices to a large extent have been shut out of the process by the UNFCCC. The stories here are the human costs of climate inaction, as well as the inspiring stories of people all over the world taking bold action to raise awareness about climate change;
  • Students and youth delegates who are there to observe and learn, as well as to add their voices to the discussion: it is their future in the balance, and their views need to be respected;
  • Scientists: As climate science itself is under attack by the FOX-GOP in America and the Canadian government, a rapid response team of climate scientists and journalists has emerged. Debunking misinformation spread by climate change deniers is critical to raising the bar of intelligent debate in America.
  • Oil Companies: Yes, that’s what I said. Oil companies are the focus of much of the debate, so why not involve them in the process and force a level of transparency never before seen in American Corporate culture? Here’s a question for the oil companies: How much money would you still make every year if you — overnight — decided never again to pollute the waters, or harm indigenous peoples in order to extract our oil from the Earth? Seriously. Have you done the math? If all the oil companies focused on getting our oil without dumping pollution into the ground and water… if toxic spills were cleaned up, and indigenous villages brought back to health… if you developed the best-of-the-best cleanup technology to clean spills when they happen… if you really became a partner-in-the-planet, and not the enemy-of-the-people: how much could you still make in a year? Wouldn’t you like to stop killing people in the name of profit? Oops, sorry… that was more than one question.

I miss being in Cancun where the action is, but there’s a certain level of objectivity here in Los Angeles which the distance provides. I can read all the stories coming in and look for what’s common, or what’s missing from the debate. And when I take jabs at the NGOs for appeasing the UNFCCC, or reference “pretty art” while calling into question the efficacy of certain forms of climate activism, I also know that but for these heroes of the climate movement — the artists and activists, bloggers and students, scientists and policy advisors, and other interested parties — change will never come.

So if all we can achieve this year is a “balanced package” to move forward on “the progress made in Copenhagen” (even while I try not to choke on those words), it would be counterproductive not to support that goal in every way possible.