Press Conference on United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun

14 December 2010

Press Conference on United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun

14 December 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun


After engaging in the “most complex negotiation in the history of the world” delegates at last week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico successfully brokered key global agreements on mitigation, adaptation, deforestation, financing and technology transfer, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning Robert Orr said this afternoon.

“The Secretary-General identified what the elements of a package could be and should be and it is that package which the negotiators came to agreement on,” Mr. Orr said during a Headquarters press conference.

He said that despite very tough talks and stalemates in various areas until the final hours, delegates were hungry for a deal and keen to put the global climate change negotiation process, which was derailed during last year’s conference in Copenhagen, back on track. 

“Overall,” he said, “the strong feeling in the chamber from all directions was that something very real had been accomplished.”  He acknowledged, however, that negotiators had yet to seal a global pact on legally binding emissions cuts to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period by 37 nations to rein in emissions expires in 2012.

Under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the Kyoto Protocol’s parent treaty body - negotiators reached consensus last week on a formal, transparent system know as MRVICA, to receive, monitor, report on and verify nations’ commitments to mitigate the ill effects of climate change, he said.

They also agreed on processes and mechanisms to end deforestation, which account for 20 per cent of global emissions, he said.  That move would bolster and speed up the already growing influx of capital in the last year injected into that area.

He said that unexpectedly good progress was made in financing the climate change agenda.  Developed countries were steadily fulfilling their Copenhagen promise to pump $30 billion into so-called “fast-start” funding in the next three years.  The Cancun agreement set up a mechanism to register and track those promises, a move that would build global confidence in financing overall.  It also laid the groundwork to create a green climate fund under the Conference of the Parties to UNFCC and identify funding sources.

Particularly important for developing countries was the creation of an adaptation framework and mechanisms to deploy money and technology to help them address the damages and losses due to climate change, he said.

During the Cancun talks, countries had argued over whether to set a second commitment period to cut global emissions, he said.  In the end, the Secretary-General called for a compromise.  All nations had agreed to ensure there was no gap between the first commitment period, to expire in 2012, and a second one, but they postponed the final deal-making to a future UNFCC summit. 

The process was a big winner,” Mr. Orr said, adding that the Secretary-General was very encouraged by the Cancun outcome and saw it as an important step.  “This does not conclude anything; it is really a beginning and not an ending.”

During the press conference, Mr. Orr rejected a correspondent’s claim that the United Nations process was limited and that most of the tough climate change decisions would be made in other forums.  He said that only through the UNFCC process could Governments collectively set up framework agreements to unlock the massive funding and political will needed to save the planet.  The aim was to spur to action Governments, the private sector and institutions alike.  “If we can create an upward competition instead of a downward competition, it’s the only way that we’ll get to the finish line,” he said.

On questions about the thorny aspects of the negotiations, he said the Secretary-General’s call to Member States to “not make the perfect be the enemy of the good” - and focus instead on reaching agreement in areas where it was obtainable and making progress in others - became a rallying cry during various parts of the talks.

“That spirit showed recognition that this can’t all be done in one gulp.  There has to be steady and continual progress to make this work.  That’s what we got out of Cancun,” he said, adding that the work plans in the coming year would “keep a lot of people busy”.

Asked about the Bolivian delegation’s objection to the final outcome because it limited temperature rise to only 2 degrees Celsius rather than to 4 degrees, he said that Bolivia had been very active during the negotiations and had had very strong concerns about substantive outcomes.  That country had put many proposals on the table, some of which had been accepted.  No party got all of its proposals accepted.  He added that everyone, including Bolivia, agreed that the process was the “holy grail” of transparent, inclusive negotiations.

Asked about a WikiLeaks document indicating that smaller countries such as the Maldives had been bribed with generous aid packages to support the Copenhagen process, Mr. Orr said he could not comment on any of the documents specifically.  He said that Governments were “pushing and pulling each other”, but that their understanding of the stakes in various areas and high-level engagement around the substance of negotiation was no surprise.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.