First Week Roundup: CDM and the Negotiations

Payal Parekh

Sunset in Cancun at the end of the first week.
Sunset in Cancun at the end of the first week.
The first week of negotiating has passed, so it is a good time to take stock of new developments in the negotiations as they relate to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and new market-based mechanisms. On Saturday, chairs of the two tracks of negotiations brought out new texts. One track covers the Kyoto Protocol, which focuses on emissions reductions targets for developed countries post-2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends. The other track is aimed at ensuring that the United States takes on a comparable effort, since it has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and also looks to expand the scope of the Protocol. Additionally, the technical wing of the UN climate office makes recommendations, as well. As you can imagine, there are many meetings happening in parallel!

A very disturbing development is that it seems countries are agreeing to include Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as an eligible project type in the CDM, provided outstanding technical issues are resolved. The CDM can only include project types that are safe and environmentally sound. CCS is neither of these, but the technical body of the UN will be under intense pressure to "resolve" these issues.

On a brighter note, it does seem that the carry-over of surplus emissions reductions units (see Time to Get Rid of All that Hot Air) from Eastern European countries will be limited. Due to the collapse of these economies, their emissions fell considerably after the fall of the wall. The surplus adds up to roughly one-third of current 2020 reduction targets pledged by developed countries. Of course, NGOs would like none of these surplus units to be carried-over, but it is a promising advancement that there will be a limit placed on the amount of carry-over.

The Executive Board of the CDM will most likely be mandated to develop guidelines for standardized baselines. Instead of each project setting its own baselines against which to calculate emissions reductions, baselines would be standardized. It is unclear if this is better than the current system. Fortunately civil society, as well as Parties, have the opportunity to submit comments until the end of March. International Rivers will be looking closely at what this option means for big hydropower dam projects.

The new texts do not set hard limits on the quantity of offsets that developed countries can use to meet their emissions reduction targets. As before, there is the vague concept of supplementarity, which leaves countries to decide what percentage of effort is "supplemental" to emissions reductions at home. A country like the Netherlands has interpreted this to mean that offsets can used for 49% of its effort!

With regards to new mechanisms, the text asks that a decision be made at the end of 2011 at the next meeting in Durban, South Africa. In a positive move, civil society has the opportunity to submit comments on market and non-markets mechanisms. Innovative non-market-based solutions include a fund for dealing with HFC-23, a powerful waste gas released when refrigerant is produced. This is akin to how the global community dealt with CFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Another great idea is to support feed-in trariffs, which help to make renewables such as solar able to compete against conventional electricity-generation technologies like coal.
Stay tuned for continuing developments in Cancun. International Rivers, along with our partners, is following the negotiations closely and pushing for major reforms.