UN Climate Change Convention:
Palitha Kohona frustrated of the outcome in Cancun
Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nation Dr. Palitha
Kohona who just attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
in Cancun, Mexico expressed disappointment of the outcome of
deliberations at the venue. He says it ended with ‘some’ hope but ‘much’
frustration and ‘considerable’ visible disappointment.
He says “Although ambition had been diluted considerably in the lead
up Cancun, in contrast to Copenhagen in 2009, there were still some who
had hoped for an ambitious legal agreement that would be the
spring-board from which to aggressively address the threat of climate
change for the sake of future generations.”
However, Dr. Kohona struck an optimistic note saying “Now with those
expectations largely unrealized, the world will look to next conference
in Durban, South Africa in 2011 for the process to move to the next
He described the finality as “The outcome at Cancun, could be said to
be consistent with the moderate expectations of those who managed the
Dr. Kohona was rather distressed when he said “Sadly, in
international processes, it must be remembered that progress is measured
in halting baby steps rather than in exuberant leaps. Important amongst
the outcomes, was the clear affirmation by the parties that climate
change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all
parties share a vision for long term cooperative action in order to
achieve the objectives of the United Nations Convention on Climate
Change (the Convention) including through the achievement of a global
goal on the basis of equity and in accordance with common but
differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”
However the Sri Lanka envoy to the UN noted “One of the useful
outcomes of Cancun was the agreement to establish a Green Climate Fund
to finance measures undertaken by developing countries to address this
“greatest of challenges of our time”.
This was a significant development, as up to now, there had been no
agreement on a viable fund to facilitate actions to deal with the
challenges faced by developing countries in confronting the threat of
He went on to elaborate: “Developed country parties to the UNFCCC
agreed to allocate 100 billion dollars per year to this fund by 2020
(Only 30 billion dollars will be made available for the period
2010-2012). By overwhelming agreement, this fund will be managed by a
Trustee, which for the time being will be the World Bank.
Given the enormity of the problem, it has been asked whether this sum
would be adequate for the purpose, particularly since it will be
balanced between adaptation and mitigation, with funds for adaptation
being prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries.
The most vulnerable countries are identified as Small Island
Developing States and Least Developed countries and they constitute
almost one third of the membership of the United Nations. The 100
billion Fund will thus serve two categories. Importantly, the adaptation
needs of many developing countries, not falling within the most
vulnerable category, and whose situation may be as precarious, may not
be met by it.
“Furthermore, some of them may be seeking to develop using the model
followed by those developed countries that were most responsible for
global warming. The yearning among the people in developing countries to
imitate and acquire the creature comforts existing in the West (motor
cars, air conditioning, heating, consumer disposables, etc.) is
It will be a serious mistake, as we seek to address the threat of
climate change, not to give adequate consideration to the soaring, but
potentially environmentally negative, aspirations of such developing
The funds necessary to meet the requirements of the developing world
must be addressed squarely if the threat of climate change is to be
properly addressed. It is a threat that respects no geographical
borders. In comparison, we recall that when the global financial crisis
threatened, the US alone very quickly mobilized US$ 700 billion dollars
to fund a rescue package.
Europe raised similar amounts, and continues to do so to rescue
ailing members of the Union. Does this suggest that the threat of
climate change is less of a worry? A preponderance of scientists would
Dr. Palitha Kohona described the handicap the developing nations face
when it comes to technology transfer: “The need for technology transfer
was also acknowledged at Cancun.
Technology transfer was recognized as an important tool in the rapid
reduction of emissions and in the urgent need to adapt to the adverse
impact of the climate change. Although perfect technologies might still
evade us, what the world possesses today, if deployed strategically and
widely, could contributes significantly to reduce GHG emissions that
cause global warming.
“Unfortunately, most of this technology is with developed countries,
private corporations and is costly. Unless effective mechanisms are
developed to facilitate technology transfer, the developing economies
could render nugatory all efforts to address the threat of climate
change. We must get away from simple rhetoric.”
Dr. Kohona highlighted the obstacles developing nations confront in
the area of emissions reduction.
“Although many had hoped for binding legal commitments with regard to
emissions reduction, what ensued, to the disappointment of a large
section of the participants, was a voluntary system.
Countries would pledge reduction targets and voluntarily report
measures they have taken to reduce emissions, as well as the success
that they have achieved. While the Cancun voluntary system would
facilitate certain countries to make commitments without having to
confront domestic legislative hurdles, it would be difficult to police.
A voluntary system would also be more at the mercy of domestic
“Nevertheless, such a system could provide the moral imperative for
such countries to adopt helpful measures, such as developing motor car
engines that consume less fossil fuels, etc. Domestic pressure groups
would begin to assume a significantly enhanced role in this context,
both positive and negative.
The tendency to engage in destructive legal arguments, including to
stifle efforts of competitors to encourage environmentally helpful
technological developments (e.g. wind turbines in China) may increase.
The voluntary system adopted here has other precedents in the
The Montreal Protocol successfully achieved the almost total
elimination of the use of ozone depleting substances through a voluntary
system coupled with a proactive secretariat that provided assistance and
the incentives of financial assistance (for funding “incremental costs”)
and technology transfers. Whether one could rely on a purely voluntary
system with regard to a threat as vast as climate change is a
“Furthermore, developing countries who become party to the system
will now be obliged to comply every two years through measurement,
reporting and verification and international consultation and analysis
mechanisms. In this respect one notes that there is already a
considerable burden on countries, specifically on developing countries,
with reporting obligations under numerous conventions.
“Even many developed countries have complained vociferously about
their reporting obligations under multilateral agreements and have
sought to rationalize their reporting obligations. The burden being
imposed on developing countries could be far too onerous and they may
require substantial assistance if they are to comply with this
If not, the system could simply become inoperable. A voluntary system
may work better if the area of application is limited (e.g. as in the
case of ozone depleting substances) and financial assistance, technology
transfer and technical assistance is tied to the deal.”
He expressed frustration that the Cancun conference did not take a
firm decision in regard to funding.
“The sources of funding for the mechanism that emerged from Cancun
remains vague. Funding provided to developing country parties may come
from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and
multilateral, including alternative sources.
The world is only too aware of pledges made before the flashlights of
media cameras in response to natural calamities which remain to be
honored many years later. It would be important to ensure that any
pledge made is specific and not subject to conditionality. Climate
change related action should not be held hostage to political
“Additional funds may be sought from a variety of sources. For
example, it may be possible to encourage multilateral financial
institutions also to contribute to the Fund, again without additional
conditionality. The same parties which made the commitments at Cancun
are also party to those multilateral financial institutions.
Private charities, some of whom have recently attracted banner
headlines with their massive contributions to worthy causes, may be
encouraged to help the Fund. Their interest needs to be excited.
Major corporations may be another sector that could be mobilized. The
concept of corporate social responsibility which is now well established
(and is taught in business schools) could be the window through which
the support of corporations could be attracted. Many could contribute
with funds or with services.
There needs to be imaginative outreach. Countries themselves, in
particular, developing countries could be encouraged to allocate a
certain percentage of their budgets to climate change related activity,
perhaps on the basis of matching funds from other sources. There are
clear economic, social and electoral advantages in this. Communities
could be encouraged to enhance their own contributions. It was one man’s
effort to clean up Australia, Ian Kiernan, that is now being emulated
around the world.
“All this needs dynamic and imaginative leadership. The UN with its
many agencies, UNEP, UNDP, Climate Change Secretariat, Biological
Diversity Secretariat, Basel Convention Secretariat, Ozone Secretariat,
Global Partnerships, etc, etc, is the only organization (with some
rationalization) that is equipped to provide this global leadership” the
Sri Lankan envoy to the United States Dr. Palitha Kohona concluded.