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From Cancun to Durban: The Need for On-the-Ground Action in Developing Countries

Following a disappointing 2009 Conference of Parties (COP) in Copenhagen and a relatively productive one in Cancun late last year, countries have crawled back into the international climate negotiations in 2011 at a snail’s pace.  The first talks of the year, held in Bangkok, focused on little more than a work agenda debate, and only in the second week of the second negotiating period – last week in Bonn – did countries finally arrive at substance.  This has a considerable portion of the climate-concerned cohort worried over whether the international community will ever be able to pull together to solve one of its most pressing challenges.  To paraphrase one observer, the international climate process is still “on probation” – and so far this year we are not getting off on the right foot.  At the heart of the debate is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the commitment period of which is due to expire at the end of 2012.  Also on the table are the establishment of a multilateral Green Climate Fund for climate actions in developing countries and a mechanism to measure, report and verify (MRV) mitigation actions and international finance, among other issues.
But while observers may rightly remain agnostic about future prospects for success within the UN climate process given the recent pace of negotiations, they should not despair in terms of developing countries taking greenhouse-gas-reducing actions on the ground.  Nationally appropriate mitigation actions, or “NAMAs,” are policies or programs that represent developing countries’ contributions to solving the climate change challenge – and many of these countries are already stepping up with impressive and promising actions.  NAMAs are already being framed by many countries as an opportunity – representing access to international financing and possibilities for development “co-benefits” like energy access, mobility, or public health.  CCAP’s Mitigation Action Implementation Network (MAIN), in partnership with the World Bank Institute, has begun to identify – through regional dialogues – potential NAMAs that will be ready for implementation in the coming months and that help countries achieve sustainable, low-carbon development.  These include policy changes to encourage renewable energy, methods to increase industrial efficiency, and large-scale projects to move freight by train or boat instead of more-polluting trucks, to name a few.
Now halfway through the 2010-2012 “fast-start finance” phase, in which developed countries have pledged US$30 billion for early mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, these NAMAs are crucial, not only for achieving developing-country emissions reductions from “business as usual” (BAU), but also for informing the international climate negotiations through concrete examples on the ground (learning by doing), rebuilding trust among UNFCCC Parties, and restoring faith in international cooperation on climate change.  However, it is now time for donors to step forward with the financial and other support developing countries need to get these actions off the ground.  In Bonn, CCAP hosted a successful policy dialogue among several donor countries and key developing countries with the objective of ensuring that funding will be available for the implementation – not just planning – of supported actions as soon as these are ready.
Going forward, developing countries should be empowered to help shape the NAMA/support framework from the ground up, and remaining questions around this framework should not hinder the implementation of early actions.  Instead of letting perfection become the enemy of the good, let us begin to implement early NAMAs that achieve reductions from BAU, lead to a successful fast-start finance period, and substantively inform the negotiations on NAMAs.  While several hurdles (the future of Kyoto, multilateral financing, MRV, etc.) remain on the path to a successful Durban COP in November, the progress many developing countries have shown in designing early mitigation actions is reason to be optimistic.

Following a disappointing 2009 Conference of Parties (COP) in Copenhagen and a relatively productive one in Cancun late last year, countries have crawled back into the international climate negotiations in 2011 at a snail’s pace. The first talks of the year, held in Bangkok, focused on little more than a work agenda debate, and only in the second week of the second negotiating period – last week in Bonn – did countries finally arrive at substance.  This has a considerable portion of the climate-concerned cohort worried over whether the international community will ever be able to pull together to solve one of its most pressing challenges.  To paraphrase one observer, the international climate process is still “on probation” – and so far this year we are not getting off on the right foot.  At the heart of the debate is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the commitment period of which is due to expire at the end of 2012.  Also on the table are the establishment of a multilateral Green Climate Fund for climate actions in developing countries and a mechanism to measure, report and verify (MRV) mitigation actions and international finance, among other issues.

But while observers may rightly remain agnostic about future prospects for success within the UN climate process given the recent pace of negotiations, they should not despair in terms of developing countries taking greenhouse-gas-reducing actions on the ground.  Nationally appropriate mitigation actions, or “NAMAs,” are policies or programs that represent developing countries’ contributions to solving the climate change challenge – and many of these countries are already stepping up with impressive and promising actions.  NAMAs are already being framed by many countries as an opportunity – representing access to international financing and possibilities for development “co-benefits” like energy access, mobility, or public health.  CCAP’s Mitigation Action Implementation Network (MAIN), in partnership with the World Bank Institute, has begun to identify – through regional dialogues – potential NAMAs that will be ready for implementation in the coming months and that help countries achieve sustainable, low-carbon development.  These include policy changes to encourage renewable energy, methods to increase industrial efficiency, and large-scale projects to move freight by train or boat instead of more-polluting trucks, to name a few.

Now halfway through the 2010-2012 “fast-start finance” phase, in which developed countries have pledged US$30 billion for early mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, these NAMAs are crucial, not only for achieving developing-country emissions reductions from “business as usual” (BAU), but also for informing the international climate negotiations through concrete examples on the ground (learning by doing), rebuilding trust among UNFCCC Parties, and restoring faith in international cooperation on climate change.  However, it is now time for donors to step forward with the financial and other support developing countries need to get these actions off the ground. In Bonn, CCAP hosted a successful policy dialogue among several donor countries and key developing countries with the objective of ensuring that funding will be available for the implementation – not just planning – of supported actions as soon as these are ready.

Going forward, developing countries should be empowered to help shape the NAMA/support framework from the ground up, and remaining questions around this framework should not hinder the implementation of early actions. Instead of letting perfection become the enemy of the good, let us begin to implement early NAMAs that achieve reductions from BAU, lead to a successful fast-start finance period, and substantively inform the negotiations on NAMAs.  While several hurdles (the future of Kyoto, multilateral financing, MRV, etc.) remain on the path to a successful Durban COP in November, the progress many developing countries have shown in designing early mitigation actions is reason to be optimistic.

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