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Cancun: your five-minute guide to the COP16 climate conference

What is it?

This will be the 16th annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP), which meets every year to agree international efforts to address climate change. It was set up as part of a UN treaty on climate change, known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Where is it taking place?

Moon Palace Hotel and the Cancun Messe complex in Cancun, Mexico.

Who is attending?  

While the Copenhagen summit in December 2009 quickly escalated into a major political event, this year’s gathering in Cancun is expected to be a much more subdued affair.

Last year’s meeting saw the largest-ever collection of people come together for a climate change meeting, with 4,000 reporters and more than 120 heads of state in attendance, including US president Barack Obama and UK prime minister Gordon Brown. The BBC sent 20 reporters to cover the event, but is reported to be sending just one to Cancun. No heads of state are expected to attend, with energy secretary Chris Huhne and climate change minister Greg Barker due to represent the UK.

What was agreed at Copenhagen?

No actual agreement was reached, but instead a two-page accord was produced. This called on industrialised countries to list their emissions targets, for all countries to monitor their emissions with complete transparency, to promote low-carbon technology and stated an ambition to keep global temperature rises below 2C.
An agreement is needed to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which was the last major international agreement for industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This protocol expires in 2012. No countries signed the so-called Copenhagen Accord, so it is not legally binding, though they did agree to ‘take note of it’.

Perhaps the most important outcome of Copenhagen was the development of a Climate Fund scheme, totalling $100 billion by 2020, for less-industrialised countries. Initially, industrialised countries promised to raise funds of $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 to help less-industrialised countries cut back on deforestation and efficiently deal with climate change.

What’s on the agenda at Cancun?

The matter of climate finance. How the funding to less-industrialised countries should be distributed, and whether the current pledged climate fund amount is enough to make a difference are topics that need to be discussed.

Another topic on the agenda will be the development of the controversial REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) programme. A commitment to interim financing for REDD+ and deforestation projects in less-industrialised countries needs to be agreed upon for the future.

Also, exact details on how countries should reduce their carbon emissions and at what level they should cut back will also be discussed. This is to ensure that global temperature rises do not exceed 2C, the threshold beyond which scientists predict dangerous environmental impacts.

Specific actions need to be agreed upon, with detailed legislative instructions on financing, targets and how to tackle these climate change issues.
What are the key sticking points?

Aside from an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the other major issue could be climate finance. Of the agreed $30 billion that has been pledged since Copenhagen, only 26 per cent ($7.9 billion) has actually been committed to international climate change programmes. So far, only 13 per cent of the promised amount ($3.9 billion) has been received.

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