Cancun Climate Talks Achieve Moderate Success

The global community is a long way from having a new treaty on climate change, but the general consensus, following Sunday’s conclusion of UN talks in Cancun, is that the negotiating process is back on track.

Several achievements at COP 16 advanced the process, which has been at risk of total collapse since last year’s conference in Copenhagen failed to reach any substantive agreements, while deepening mistrust between developed and developing nations. 

Australia’s Climate Institute explains in a brief video, that the Cancun agreement is significant for two reasons: 1) all 192 negotiating countries signed on–as opposed to the Copenhagen accord, which did not achieve unanimous support. Climate Institute’s Erwin Jackson says this allows the negotiating process to regain its "mojo."

And, 2) the Cancun agreement includes emissions reductions targets for countries that represent 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These targets are still far below the level recommended by science, but previously, they were not official. Ideally, those targets can now be strengthened in the future.

Other Steps

In Cancun, all nations agreed to set a goal of limiting a rise in average world temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) over pre-industrial times. (In Cancun, there was a strong push by Island nations and African countries to set that level at 1.5 degrees Celsius.) Squabbling over this figure seems somewhat trivial on the surface, but it will serve as a baseline against which ambitions, emissions targets and funding are measured. 

Negotiators also agreed to created a Green Climate Fund to provide $100 billion a year to poor nations by 2020 in an effort to protect tropical forests and share clean energy technology. However, no one knows yet, where this large amount of funding will come from. (A smaller U.S. cash pledge from last year is already in doubt, according to a Politico story.)

Disagreement Over Kyoto

The major sticking point in Cancun negotiations was whether or not to extend the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. That treaty, which the U.S. never signed, requires 40 developed countries to make modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It was originally conceived as a trial phase that would slow the rise of emissions while creating a global market for carbon credits. 

Developing nations insist that Kyoto should not be replaced by a new treaty, but that it should continue into a second phase. Japan, Russia and Canada took a hard stance in Cancun, stating that they would not sign on to an extension unless it includes the world’s two largest polluters, the U.S. and China. Negotiators found no resolution on this issue.

U.S. Outlook

Todd Stern, the lead U.S. negotiator, told
reporters the Cancun achievements could make it easier for the U.S. to
act on its promises. The U.S. has been insistent that China and other
fast-developing nations must be willing to commit to emissions goals and
transparency. China’s willingness to lock in its pledge of reducing
emissions intensity 40% to 45%, clears that hurdle. (Reuters reporting)

Moving Forward

Negotiators did not set a time table for sealing a legally binding agreement. Next year’s conference will take place in South Africa, and there is hope that low-level negotiations will continue to make progress between now and then.

"The most important thing is that the multilateral process has received a shot in the arm, it had reached an historic low. It will fight another day," Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told Reuters. "It could yet fail."

We’ll continue to report on Cancun details throughout the week. You can read more at the link below.

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