What was agreed at Cancun?: 15 December 2010
‘Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate’. Greenpeace International Climate Policy Director - Wendel Trio.
After Copenhagen, expectations of any form of concrete deal, or the future of the entire UN COP process, were not high. Some feared of it becoming a ‘zombie conference’ (Chris Huhne, DECC), where year on year negotiations continue without progress. However, despite not resulting in any concrete emissions cuts, Cancun has been hailed the saviour of the international framework for multilateral cooperation, making slow but steady progress from Copenhagen. We’re still in deep water, but at least know which direction dry land is.
What was agreed at Cancun:
To limit warming to 2’C. Current pledges however are likely to result in a 3.5’C global temperature rise.
Emissions pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord – the one contentious document to come out of COP15– were brought back into the UN process. The one advantage to the voluntary pledges, is that most countries involved in the process have added their figures in due to its non-legal status, which acts as a good starting point from which to work.
The major stumbling block was over the extension of the Kyoto Protocol post 2012. Japan and Russia’s both refused to sign up to the extension, which would have left no legally binding emissions reduction strategy in place. The final compromise has allowed countries to hold their positions and agree to further negotiations at COP17 in South Africa.
Some progress was made on REDD+. REDD+ effectively monetarizes natural forests and biodiversity by paying developing countries to maintain their forests, but has been criticized for shutting out forest-dwelling indigenous people and the imposition of market forces on what is seen as a global asset and inherently valuable. Bolivia has objected to the programme, and their ‘Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth’ is calling for a deal based on universal rights for all life and care rather than profit for the natural environment.
The Green Fund of $100 billion/year by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to climate change was confirmed, although as a political aspiration, not an official commitment. This fund could still replicate the conditional aid that has typified rich country contributions so far.
The principles of ‘Monitoring, Reporting and Verification’ (MRV) were established, but details of who would carry out the inspections was not specified.
This slow progress highlights the difficulties with international climate negotiations, made very apparent in Copenhagen. Delegates (and even presidents) can only act in accordance with what has been agreed domestically (at least in democratic states), otherwise bold promises made at the COP won’t make it through domestic political systems resulting in embarrassment. Whilst the international agreement is vitally important, it is reflected by the strength of national and local action.
What is apparent is that change is happening, and countries are all now aware of the impending transition and vying to dominate the new green markets of renewable energy and carbon. Activist, Joss Garman comments on the shift in positions and tactics between the US and China. There is no longer concern that action will cost their economies, but a fear that they will be left behind –and dangerously dependent on oil – in the transition to a low carbon society. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham sums it up: "Six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China. Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy."
If the UK is to remain a global leader, and not left behind in the race away from oil into cleaner technologies, we will need to invest and support local renewable production. Plugging the looming skills gap in renewable energy, low carbon building and retrofitting will accelerate our ability to rapidly decarbonise our economy. It will require bold politicians and dedicated citizens to take us through these challenging changes, but the results will see a stable and resilient UK and global society.