Opinion: From Copenhagen to Cancun: Train Wreck or Paragigm Shift?

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Nearly a year has passed since the Copenhagen session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC - COP 15) and the Cancun COP 16 is nearly upon us. The dust has settled a little on the Copenhagen Accord - the sole outcome of the Summit that was designed to be the culmination of a four-year intensive process to negotiate a legal regime to take over once the Kyoto commitment period ends in 2012.1 There is an interest¬ing dissonance of views on Copenhagen and the Accord as well as the next steps in the UNFCCC process. In Europe - and in many other Annex I countries party to the Kyoto Protocol, such as Australia - the Copenhagen meeting was generally regarded as a disaster. By contrast, US commentators have been more positive, seeing it as a major step forward and perhaps even presenting a new model for a climate agreement.

There is also considerable rumbling about the UNFCCC process itself. As the par¬ties to the UNFCCC continue to negotiate their way towards the Cancun COP 16, there is no real evidence that substantive progress is being made, leading some to say that the UNFCCC process itself is 'broken'; that it is no longer feasible to have 194 countries all engaged in negotiating a huge range of important and difficult issues. Critics of the process did not find the prospect of Sudan speak¬ing at Copenhagen on behalf of the G77 particularly edifying - especially when the Sudanese delegate made singularly inappropriate comments about the Holo¬caust.

In the same vein, press photographs of the negotiating process of the Accord, in which global leaders are shown with a laptop apparently drafting the agreement themselves, have also prompted suggestions that a smaller forum of these same leaders - major greenhouse gas emitters from developed and developing coun¬tries alike perhaps under the auspices of the G20 - would be a much more effec¬tive forum for substantive progress in addressing climate change.

With these issues in mind it is worth looking at the process which led to Copen¬hagen and also to review in detail the content of the Accord, and then perhaps look forward.

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