After the hype and subsequent disappointment surrounding last year’s UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which failed to produce binding global agreement on emissions reductions, the expectations for this year’s talks, which open in Cancun, Mexico today, are much more modest.
“We’re not going to get a global, legally binding deal at Cancun,” UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit at UC Davis earlier this month. “We’ve got to make it a staging post toward that deal.”
Rather than focusing on a comprehensive binding agreement, negotiators will likely focus on technical steps that could pave the way for a final deal at next year’s talks in South Africa, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. Those might include financing for developing nations to deal with climate change; setting standards for measuring, reporting, and verifying nations’ greenhouse gas emissions; and tackling emissions from deforestation.
Meanwhile, California is moving ahead with its plans to organize a network of sub-national cooperation, called the R20, which Governor Schwarzenegger announced in Copenhagen last year and officially launched at his summit in Davis two weeks ago.
“As a binding international agreement remains elusive, we know that there’s a lot of work that can be done at the sub-national level,” said Cal-EPA Secretary Linda Adams, who will be in Cancun promoting R20. “In fact the UN itself says that up to 80% of all mitigation that will be required to keep the Earth’s temps stable will be done at the sub-national level.”
That work will primarily focus on organizing regional and local governments around to world to work together on clean energy projects, said Terry Tamminen, the former Cal-EPA chief who is currently leading R20 efforts.
“Basically our main purpose [at Cancun] is simply to say to them ‘Look, you’re not the only ones in this game, and we know you’re all frustrated because you haven’t been able to reach a successor agreement to Kyoto, but we at the subnational level are here to help. We’re going to be this bottom-up, even as you continue to try to get the top-down agreement and we’ll be waiting for you, whenever you show up,'” said Tamminen.
Over the last year, R20 has grown to include 69 governments and organizations, and Tamminen said he expects 100 members by the end of the year. He said he’ll spend the next few months recruiting members, organizing structurally as an organization, lining up financing, and identifying projects that are “low-hanging fruit,” such as installing efficient street lighting, replacing old boilers with more efficient ones, and piloting waste-to-energy programs.
Tamminen said that Gov. Schwarzenegger plans to “devote a lot of his time” to R20 when he leaves office in January.
“Next year in South Africa when the world meets, and the UN is once again looking for a global deal, you can imagine him taking center stage and saying, “Well, we’ve got a deal for you!” said Tamminen.
Gretchen Weber will remain in Cancun for the next two weeks, following the UN climate talks as a fellow with the Earth Journalism Network, a project of Internews. You can check back here, at the Climate Watch blog for dispatches, and follow her on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/gxweber.