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Progress in Cancun, work begins on Durban

Thousands of demonstrators marched in Cancún to ask UN negotiators to achieve a fair deal against climate change
Demonstrators in Cancún urging UN negotiators to achieve a fair deal against climate change (file photo) (Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam)

A new deal on climate change, struck in Cancun, Mexico, has brought greater optimism, and opened the way to addressing loss and damage in developing countries brought on by the impacts of global warming, including sea level rise.

The inclusion of the words "loss and damage", which could allude to compensation and a legal obligation on the part of developed countries, would have been unimaginable a year ago.

Countries have been asked to submit their views on the possible development of a climate risk insurance facility that would pay out after a severe weather event.

This was not the only surprise in the Cancun package. A Green Climate Fund, originally proposed by Mexico, will also be set up. "There is hope for the world," a young activist remarked.

The shape of a global climate change treaty - including adaptation beyond 2012 - was established in Cancun after delegates stayed up for two nights.

Despite this progress, South Africa - host of the next round of talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Durban at the end of 2011 - will have its work cut out if it is to add flesh to the frame between now and then.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” said Alf Wills, South Africa’s lead negotiator in Cancun. He told IRIN that they were requesting at least two rounds of talks at ministerial level ahead of the Durban meeting.

The problem was often a lack of political weight behind negotiating officials. “It is difficult for progress to be made, so we are supporting the call for two ministerial meetings,” said Hasan Mahmud, Bangladesh’s Minister for Environment and Forests.

Durban might also see all-night marathons to get an agreement - the larger and more contentious issue of establishing a legally binding agreement to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions is still unresolved.

“In Durban we need a global deal that helps countries build a green economy, and that holds polluters accountable,” said Wendel Trio, climate policy director of Greenpeace International.

“The governments not only acknowledged the gap between their current weak pledges and where they need to get to, they actually stated that emissions cuts needed to be in line with the science – 25 to 40 percent cuts by 2020 – and that they need to keep global temperature rise below two degrees [Celsius],” Trio noted.

New climate fund

The new Green Climate Fund will be governed by a board of 24 members, with an equal number from developing and developed countries, and will be administered by the World Bank for the first three years.

This has not gone down well with developing countries. “We [the African Union] are working towards the creation of an Africa Green Fund, which will be administered by the African Development Bank – we want Africa’s share of money to flow through that,” said Dr Edward Kofi Omane Boamah, Ghana’s deputy minister for the environment.

The Green Climate Fund will disburse money for adaptation support as well as efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “African countries are responsible for a negligible amount of emissions. We want most – at least 60 percent of the funds – to flow for adaptation,” Boamah said.

The Cancun deal noted the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, in which developed countries pledged US$30 billion as fast-start finance for adaptation and mitigation efforts from 2010 to 2012.

The accord has generated a lot of acrimony in developing countries, who have accused rich countries of “double counting” their official development assistance (ODA) as support for climate change efforts.

In terms of the Kyoto Protocol of the UNFCCC, financial support has to be over and above ODA. “We still have to resolve the issues around transparency on the pledges,” said Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chief negotiator of the Africa group at the talks in Mexico.

The Cancun agreement called on developed countries to submit details of their financial support to enhance transparency.

Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, told IRIN that she had met with several developing countries to provide details on Europe’s support. “They have all been very happy and satisfied.”

The new deal calls on developed countries to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 in long-term finance to help developing countries, “But they didn’t establish any way of providing that money,” Greenpeace's Trio commented.


“It [the deal] is not everything we wanted – the language could have been stronger – it ‘recognizes’ loss and damage … but I would have never thought any text would even mention loss and damage,” said Ansarul Karim, a member of the Bangladeshi delegation who worked closely with the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group on the adaptation track of the talks.

The proposal for a loss and damage mechanism has been a contentious issue. In various drafts of the climate change deal during the past two years it has always been noted in brackets, indicating that it was an unresolved issue.

The new agreement also established a Cancun Adaptation Framework, with guidelines on providing support for adaptation. Civil society has called for the establishment of such a framework for several years.

In another important development the framework calls on countries to enhance understanding and cooperation on “climate change-induced displacement, migration and planned relocation”.

Again, developing countries felt the language could have been stronger, but NGOs said the fact that displacement and planned relocation were recognized was a good “first step”.

“The positive language on adaptation in the final text is only worthwhile if it is linked to increased funding, with at least half going to adaptation,” said Laura Webster, head of policy at Tearfund, a development agency.

The agreement calls for an adaptation committee to provide support to countries, right down to the local government level, "But there is no financial support linked to this committee," said Antonio Hill, a climate change policy expert at Oxfam, an international relief agency.

Nevertheless, Cancun has added hope and impetus to future negotiations. "We want a legally binding deal in Durban,” said Bangladesh’s minister Mahmud. “We have to work towards it."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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