CCAP's Ned Helme discusses outcome of Cancun climate talks

Did last week's UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Cancun, Mexico help move the international climate discussion forward? Are nations any closer to a final, binding agreement? During today's OnPoint, Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, discusses the outcome of the meeting and explains what the next steps are for the international climate process.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy. Ned, thanks for joining me again.

Ned Helme: My pleasure, thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Ned, you just got back from the UN climate meeting in Cancun Mexico. What were the key headlines coming out of that meeting?

Ned Helme: Well, I think the biggest story is a breakthrough. I mean this process has been broken and there was fear it was broken irreparably. And between the Mexicans and the secretariat, they rebuilt the trust and rebuilt the process and we have a striking agreement, a stunning accomplishment really.

Monica Trauzzi: Some elements of the Copenhagen Accord were set into motion. Talk a bit about that. What are some of the details there?

Ned Helme: Well, the key pieces of the Copenhagen Accord were really the targets, the financing, and the transparency, monitoring, reporting, and verification. And we got all three things settled neatly in this text.

Monica Trauzzi: What was different this time around? I mean did it seem like people were more willing to negotiate? Was there a fear that the UN process could collapse if this meeting didn't go well?

Ned Helme: There was and I think the heart of the difference was Mexico. I mean they, for this whole year, have done a really inclusive process. They've really built trust. They've listened to everyone. They opened the process up. Even to the point when we were at the final stages here on Friday, Thursday night and Friday morning, any delegates who wanted to come in and raise objections or raise concerns could come into that room. There were 40 ministers sort of at the final deal, but anyone could play. And so they really build the trust and you could see it on the final night when there was a standing ovation for Mrs. Espinoza. I mean everybody felt she had included them all and this was really a rebuilt process. She repaired all the wounds of Copenhagen.

Monica Trauzzi: Towards the end of the negotiations the Bolivian ambassador said that the agreement was totally inadequate. Was there some truth to that? I mean take us back to the last 24 hours of the process last week. What happened and what led to him making that comment?

Ned Helme: Well, I don't think it's true. I think he actually - it's quite inaccurate. We went from, and I've never seen this before in an international process, we went from the text that was pretty sparse and spare to a really robust, beautifully balanced piece of work. I mean when they write the diplomatic, you know, the history of the case study of great diplomacy, this is a classic example. That text was better than anything we saw on the way to the finish line. Now, they worked all the pieces, but they crafted it together in one package. It was beautifully done and it balanced everybody. You go through there and you see this is for these guys and this is for these guys and this is, you know, so it was perfectly balance. Quite a feat. And his comments, he basically wanted nothing and he was never going to be pleased. And the fact that he was all by himself at the end is really quite striking.

Monica Trauzzi: And did a lot of this progress have to do with the new chief, Christiana Figueras? I mean talk about her role in all this.

Ned Helme: Yeah, I think she played an important role. You know, she came from the process, so she knew the players. She knew where all the issues lay and she played a role of really the staff. You know, I want the negotiators to drive this thing and I want to see them go forward. And she directed her staff, and so it was a real collaborative effort between the Mexicans, who were brilliant diplomats, and the secretariat doing the technical work. And, as a team, they were really very functional and very effective right to the finish line.

Monica Trauzzi: What was the reaction in Cancun to the lack of representation from members of Congress?

Ned Helme: I don't think there was a lot of focus on that. I mean this was a deal that was very complicated and it was very inside process kind of stuff. And so I think people were very focused inward. And, you know, we didn't have all the presidents there, so we didn't have all the PR and the hoopla that we had in Copenhagen. It was much more how do we get this done? And I think the way they built that trust everybody felt the need. You know how to we find a compromise that acceptable, but we want to help make this happen. And that's what led to the solution I think.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what wasn't accomplished? What's still very critical in this process?

Ned Helme: Well, you know, the targets are not enough to get where we need to go by 2050. But they are the targets that were inscribed in Copenhagen and we did - the one success at Copenhagen is we had written down these targets, but a lot of countries rejected them. Now, those targets will be inscribed and they're solid and they're in one place, so that's pretty important. And the money piece of this, the funding, the financing, the launching of this fund, we got the agreement to launch the fund. So in the next year, instead of fighting about whether there will be a fund, now we're talking about, all right, what are the details? Who's going to run it? How do we set criteria? How do we decide what gets funded? How do we ensure that we get the reductions we need? So I think we're now past that do we to, all right, we've got to do it and now we've got to focus on that.

Monica Trauzzi: Did they accomplish anything in sort of setting a path forward on how to get to a binding agreement?

Ned Helme: Yeah, they did. I mean they finessed this issue of is the Kyoto Protocol to continue or is it something new? What's the legal form? They left room for everybody. So those who really wanted a legal form binding treaty by South Africa still argue for that. But we're not locked into that in one sense nor are we locked out of that. So it kept that ball in play and I think that was important.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what are the key things that we need to watch over the next year ahead of next year's South Africa meeting?

Ned Helme: OK, there's two things I'd watch. One is on the ground, what happens in the countries, because these countries are now, developing countries, are very excited about the possibilities and there's money on the table now, $30 billion first time in this three year period. So we're going to see action and that's the test. You know, we've done this at other times in this treaty. In the mid-90s we had to show that you get projects in place in developing countries. Now we're talking about policies and broader things and we're going to test that in this next year. At the same time, we're going to have the negotiators working on the rules. So what are the rules for monitoring, reporting, and verification? We have the broad framework here. We've got to define those more carefully. So we'll have a two track process. One, the real world, on the ground, making it happen and the other sort of setting the context, the rules, the structure, the terms of reference for the next step. So an exciting process. And those will be feeding each other, but I think now we're on track. Everybody's moving forward. The train's back on the rails and it's going forward. We've built a foundation that we can live with and make something out of.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, very interesting. Thank you, Ned. Thanks for coming on the show.

Ned Helme: Thank you, it was cool, it was great.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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