Final day in Cancun: The world looks to Japan

Joss Garman provides a round-up of the final day of talks in Cancun - highlighting the importance of Japan's anti Kyoto stance.

With the final day of negotiations getting under way at the UN climate summit in Cancun, all eyes are now on Japan. As the BBC’s Richard Black correctly reports from Mexico:

“As this year’s UN climate summit nears its end, nations looking for a new deal have launched a diplomatic assault on Japan in the hope of softening its resistance to the Kyoto Protocol.

“As many as 20 world leaders are in line to phone Prime Minister Naoko Kan to ask for a change of stance. Japan’s position is seen as the single biggest barrier to reaching a deal.”

A number of leaders including David Cameron and the Mexican President Felipe Calderon have timetabled calls to Japan’s Prime Minister Naoko Kan to urge him to change his country’s position.

As the BBC report outlines, the crux of things is that to break the impasse in the negotiations, Japan must agree “not necessarily to embrace the (Kyoto) protocol, but at least to agree to a form of words that will allow discussions to continue beyond this summit”.

The Independent reported earlier this week what the debate is about over the Kyoto issue – and how the UK’s Chris Huhne has ended up at the centre of the controversy.

“Mr Huhne has been asked by the Mexican organisers of the conference to try bridging the “Kyoto Protocol gap”, between those countries that insist they will never sign up to a new period of Kyoto, the current climate treaty (such as the Japanese, Russians and Canadians) and those who insist that without a Kyoto extension, there can be no new climate deal (such as the Bolivians, the Venezuelans, the Chinese and the African countries).”

It was the fact that Huhne has such a key role that triggered the furore a couple of days ago when it was suggested he might be pulled back to Westminster for the fees vote.

There have been suggestions that even if Japan can be won over on this issue, Russia might still trigger the collapse of the summit through their intransigence on the same issue. However, Russia always pipes up with obstructive comments at awkward times, and the fact is they usually end up backing down. Equally, it’s unlikely that Canada – who have been unusually quiet during these negotiations – would go it alone in blocking progress if Japan got out of the way.

Whilst things may also seem quite gloomy – with some unhelpful commentators even likening the talks to Copenhagen – the fact remains that if Japan change their position on Kyoto, and permit discussions on that issue to be continued beyond Cancun, then it is perfectly possible there could be real progress from Cancun on a series of other areas of the talks, especially on forest protection.

If Japan do stay firm – as many oil majors have already indicated they’re fiercely lobbying for – that could collapse the talks. That’s why it’s true to say the outcome of the summit really does now hang in the balance. If the talks do crumble over the next 24 hours, it would clearly undermine the UN process and the UN’s authority on climate change – which in turn could end up threatening Japan’s hopes for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

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