US and Canada: “Show the World that Cancun can.”

While climate change has become increasingly political among some countries, there is an increasing need to break away from this over the next two weeks in order to come down on key decisions here at the negotiations. And Canada, the United States, and Mexico may just be the ones to lead.

Mexico opened the annual United Nations climate change conference this week with candor and genuine thought. Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretary and this year’s President of the negotiations, opened the climate change talks with enthusiasm. She encouraged countries to have “dialogue in good faith,” and to urged negotiators to “preserve a collective good of enormous importance.” She spoke of the “flexibility needed from all” in order to find a common denominator amongst the room. She reiterated that this “will mean breaking out of our paralysis.”

Lykke Friis, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and President of the previous Conference, set the bar by telling negotiators to “keep a legally-binding treaty in our sights.” This is the ultimate goal, to be worked towards in the coming year. In strong-suggestion, she ended with, “Let’s show the world that Cancun can.

Despite the good will from Mexico, Japan has come out of the gates slightly disgruntled, stating that it does not support a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol — the world’s only legally binding climate change agreement to date. (A commitment period is a time-frame during which countries commit to reducing their emissions contributing to climate change. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is up in 2012.) The controversy over continuing the Kyoto Protocol is that it does not include key countries such as the United States.
However, there is a heavy argument in the hallways of the UN that the world should move ahead for the time being without the United States signing an agreement. Why? The United States is unlikely to pass a climate change bill any time in the next two years, given the make-up of political representatives — unless the Republican party shifts its stance to become progressive on climate change, however, that is also very unlikely. That said, the United States has a lot to work for here at the United Nations over the next two weeks, and for the years to come.

The US is a major piece of the solution, and other countries need to see that it is still making progress regardless of whether it has a climate change bill or not. The US can move forward on laying out its plans for cutting emissions in the country, in order to build trust amongst other countries, and it can also lead in discussions around how countries measure and verify their emissions — this is ultimately a story about ensuring transparency (technically known as Measurable, Reportable, & Verifiable “MRV”). The US should be a leading player, regardless of what laws it is able to pass on the home front.

And Canada, ultimately, should be doing the same. While the catch phrase of Canada’s government has been “accountability” for the past four years, here lies an opportunity for Canada to integrate its expertise into the negotiations. There is a need for a developed country — such as Canada, Australia, or the United States — to propose that countries make a decision to implement a stringent system of accountability for developed countries under the broader climate change agreement that includes everyone (otherwise known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a.k.a. the mother of the Kyoto Protocol).
Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to remind us all that the leaders of Canada, the United States, and Mexico — Harper, Obama, and Calderon — once said, “We, the leaders of North America reaffirm the urgency and necessity of taking aggressive action on climate change. …We share a vision for a low-carbon North America.”
The negotiations here in Cancun ultimately need progress in order for the United Nations process on climate change, and for a global, legally binding deal to be a reality at next year’s negotiations.
While Canada and the US are still bruised by failed climate change bills unable to pass Senate, both countries should take this opportunity follow Mexico’s lead in pushing for two weeks of meetings where political baggage is left at the door.

About Zoë

Zoë is the co-author of ''Global Warming for Dummies" written with Elizabeth May, and Editor on ItsGettingHotInHere. She is the Climate Policy & Advocacy Specialist for WWF-Canada and is on the provincial renewable energy stakeholder consultation project team in Nova Scotia. She is President on the national board of Sierra Club Canada and was a founding member of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. Zoë attends United Nations Climate Change Conferences and was aboard the Students On Ice International Polar Year 2007 Expedition to Antarctica. She has appeared Vanity Fair and ELLE magazines for her work on climate change.

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