The climate change negotiations at Cancun, Mexico will be difficult and expectations are “very low”, Prime Minister John Key said today.
The two-week talks, which began last week, are the latest attempt to formalise a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire next year.
Last year's negotiations ended with the signing of the Copenhagen Accord by most participating countries, including NZ.
The non-legally binding accord aims to agree a limit on global temperature rises to 2°C, which would require deep cuts to global emissions.
Environment Minister Nick Smith, in Cancun, said today that NZ will be seeking a “balanced package of decisions” that build on the Copenhagen Accord.
He affirmed NZ's commitment to working towards a “comprehensive, legally-binding global agreement that will limit emissions and the environmental damage from anthropogenic climate change.”
But Mr Key said today that significant progress is unlikely to occur at Cancun.
“They might make progress on funding for developing nations when it comes to adaptation and mitigation but I’ll be surprised if there’s a lot more out of Cancun than that.”
Cancun: the key players
Several informal negotiating blocs have emerged at Cancun, including the EU countries, an ‘umbrella’ group of developed countries including NZ, Australia, US, Canada, Norway and Japan, and a ‘group of 77’ developing nations.
The latter group wants bigger cuts in emissions by developed countries, a second Kyoto commitment period and more financial support for developing countries to reduce their emissions.
Both the US and Japan oppose a second Kyoto commitment period.
Mr Key brushed off concerns that aligning with the US and Japan might damage NZ's relationship with China and developing countries as key trading partners.
“The real issue is whether collectively we can agree a way forward, it’s not really a question with who we align with. I don’t see that as a major issue."
Trade Minister Tim Groser will play a leading role at Cancun as the chair of the committee on mitigation and measurement, reporting and verification.
Former climate change ambassador Adrian Macey, as vice-chair of the Kyoto Protocol negotiating stream, will help negotiate forestry-related rules and emissions markets among countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol.
Looking to Durban
Other New Zealanders at Cancun include Labour MP Charles Chauvel and Business NZ energy, environment and infrastructure manager John Carnegie.
Mr Chauvel wrote in a blog post today that the US may "walk away from the UN climate mechanism" if no progress is made towards its desired position - that all countries agree to adopt binding emissions reduction targets but no extension to Kyoto beyond next year if no new deal is reached.
“New Zealand is seen here as strongly sympathetic to the US position, as are the other members of the Umbrella Group."
Mr Carnegie wrote in an update last week that “serious questions" are being asked about whether an overall consensus agreement to replace Kyoto is possible.
"Perhaps a series of bilateral and regional agreements is more achievable in the medium term," he wrote.
"Yesterday the Umbrella Group, including New Zealand, pledged ‘to achieve the best outcome we can’ in search of a balanced and flexible outcome."
"In light of the increasingly unrealistic expectations of the developing countries, such a goal is perhaps as realistic as one could expect."
Next year's round of negotiations is scheduled to occur in Durban, South Africa.