Q&A with professor of economics Sylvie Thoron


Winter 2011

In June 2010, two CReSIS students and one staff member had the opportunity to attend the Network for Ice sheet and Climate Evolution (NICE) international conference on communicating climate change. One of the speakers, Dr. Sylvie Thoron, weighs in on her thoughts on the outcome of the COP16 meeting in Cancun. Dr. Thoron is a professor of economics at the University of Toulon in France. Her talk at the NICE conference was entitled “International negotiations on climate change.”

--Do you feel that COP16 exceeded expectations, especially in light of the perceived failure of COP15 last year, which received quite a bit more hype?

Yes, in one sense, COP16 was an unexpected success and a kind of relief for those who put some hope in the negotiations on climate change.

--Is the COP16 meeting considered a success in its own right, or is it only seemingly positive compared to last year’s failure to deliver a comprehensive agreement ?

COP16 can be considered to be a success because the countries managed to negotiate all together in the framework of the UNFCCC. The main failure of COP15 was that the outcome had been negotiated by about 25 countries and then imposed on the others. Throughout the meeting in Cancun a serious concern was as to whether it was even possible to pursue the negotiations in the UN framework, in an open negotiation where the different countries have the same weight and voice during the procedure. A threat hovering over the whole meeting was the possible explosion of the UN framework and, at best, its being replaced by partial negotiations among sub-groups of countries.

--COP16 somewhat restored the UN’s credibility through the successful yet modest Cancun Agreement, but, as anticipated, nothing that was decided upon in Cancun was legally binding. Is a legally binding treaty in sight, with the Kyoto Protocol coming to an end next year?

Indeed, beyond the rescue of the global framework for the negotiations, Cancun did not strengthen what had emerged in Copenhagen. There are two difficulties to solve concerning the extension of the Kyoto Protocol which comes to an end next year. First the countries of the Annex 1 which are involved in the Kyoto protocol need to agree on a new commitment. In this repect, Japan, Russia and Canada made declarations during the meeting in Cancun, claiming that they did not want to participate in the extension of the Protocol. The second difficulty is the enlargement of the Protocol to other countries, in particular to the developing countries but also to the US, which did not ratify Kyoto. This means that there are a lot of problems to be solved in just one year. Furthermore, the three difficulties are interdependent. The US did not want to join without the emerging countries and conversely. Furthermore, the countries who were committed to the original treaty have threaten to withdraw because the others did not want to join. However, this is also good news since the three difficulties could be solved at the same time. In this respect, the willingness of developing countries in Cancun was a good sign. However, the horizon is very short!

--Which country has the most influential sway at this moment, in your opinion? Or is it a block of countries?

Certain southern countries are becoming very active but these are not the most powerful up until now. I mean that Brazil and Mexico, for example, are more than China or India. If they decide to take the leadership, the three difficulties which I previously discussed could be solved.

--Likewise, which countries stepped up this time around and took a comparatively less selfish approach? China, for example, seems to have agreed to more firm commitments this time around…

I think it is less a question of selfishness than a question of trust and leadership. If the developing countries start to make proposals and take the leadership, China will not want to be a follower in this group and would wish to become the leader. This would be the best scenario.