Monday, December 13, 2010

The Cancun Agreements

Friday marked the last day of COP 16—the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Following last year’s disastrous conference in Copenhagen, delegates from 193 countries met in Cancun with little fanfare and low expectations. The Cancun Agreements, drafted and released Saturday morning,are actually being met with general satisfaction.

On the positive side,the agreements are laudable: emissions reduction, limits to deforestation, financial support for countries affected by climate change. According to the Economic Times, global temperatures are to be restricted to a rise of 2 degrees C (3.6 F) over pre-industrial levels. Wealthy countries are to cut their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 over 1990 levels. In addition, as Grist describes in a surprisingly supportive article, the changes that developed and developing countries must make to their systems of monitoring and reporting on emissions. For example, developed countries will have to submit annual reports of their emissions, and developing countries will have to report every two years on their progress in cutting emissions.

The conference also made good on its promise to establish a means of financial support for developing countries hurt by the effects of climate change. The Green Climate Fund will be represented by twenty-fourcountries, half of which are developed countries and half of which are developing countries. Wealthy countries will contribute $100 billion to the fund per year, starting in 2020, and the U.S., the E.U., and Japan have already agreed to an immediate $30 billion for rapid assistance. Finally, the conference took a stand against deforestation and its effects on indigenous populations and biodiversity.

Above all, though, the conference is getting good press not for the content of the agreements, but simply because the participating countries made any agreements at all. The quote circulating around the Internet that summarizes the consensus about the conference is from Wendel Trio, of Greenpeace: “Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate.” With the exception of a last-minute disagreement with Bolivia, which believed that the agreement did not go far enough in combating climate change, the delegates seem to have saved face after the debacle at Copenhagen.

But the protestors from Bolivia (some pictured at left) may have had a point. The agreement, as at Copenhagen, is not legally binding. There is still no arrangement for an extension or revision of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The delegates shelved that issue for next year, when the conference will occur in South Africa, and already Japan, Canada, and Russia have declared that they will not extend the deal if the U.S., China, and India do not agree to it. The goal of restricting temperatures to a rise of 2 degrees is well above most scientists’ calls for a maximum 1.5 degree rise. The emissions reduction of 25-40% does not include countries that did not ratify Kyoto, which include huge polluters like the U.S. And as for the Green Climate Fund, it’s still not clear how wealthy countries will raise the money to finance such a large sum.

So Trio is certainly correct that Cancun has not saved the climate. In fact, the conference did fall short in important ways. But we may have to accept that the global political response to climate change is going to be incremental. We may have to take our victories where we can find them, and there are at least a few victories to be found in the Cancun Agreements—even if it’s just the consolation that we didn’t have another Copenhagen.

1 comment:

  1. todd stern, the us envoy from an article in the WSJ: "It's really complicated stuff, talking about trying to regulate entire economies, trying to get economies onto lower-carbon paths," Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, said in a news conference after the conclusion of the meeting Saturday. "If you can take good steps every year, that's a better way to make progress" than trying to solve the climate problem in a single agreement, he said.