A way forward: Agreements reached in Cancun

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Going Green in Cancun, Cancun, Mexico

Nations meeting in Cancun to address the effects of climate change reached agreements that most expect to be the framework for a legally binding treaty to be negotiated in the coming year, and perhaps be approved during a meeting in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011.

Meetings lasted until 2 a.m. local time, when delegates approved the deal over the objections of Bolivia, which gained on support from other nations, according to reports from inside the closed-door meeting.

The agreements keep alive the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was ratified by all countries except the United States, and create a Long-term Cooperative Agreement which brings the United States into parity with the rest of the world.

Perhaps most importantly, the agreements show that there is universal consensus among the world's governments that climate change is real, and that man's activities are a major contributor to that change.

“Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. “Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause. They have shown that consensus in a transparent and inclusive process can create opportunity for all,” she said.

“Governments have given a clear signal that they are headed towards a low-emissions future together, they have agreed to be accountable to each other for the actions they take to get there, and they have set it out in a way which encourages countries to be more ambitious over time,” she said.

The Cancun Agreements state the world’s intention to:

  • prevent global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius
  • reduce emissions of 25-40 percent by 2020
  • establish a “Green Fund” with money from developed countries to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change
  • establish a program to curb carbon emission and reduce atmosphere carbon through reforestation and the prevention of deforestation (this program will also support a market for carbon credits for forests, proving a financial incentive for countries not to cut trees)
  • create a mechanism to transfer technology from developed countries to developing countries to assist with adaptation to climate change and mitigation of pollution.

Greenpeace was generally supportive of the deal. Though it acknowledged that it does not go far enough, the global environmental organization said it is movement in the right direction. It pointed out that while the agreement set out the mechanism to establish a fund to help developing countries combat the effects of climate change, that fund will be empty.

“Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate,” Greenpeace International Climate Policy Director Wendel Trio said in a statement. “Some called the process dead but governments have shown that they can cooperate and can move forward to achieve a global deal.”

The organization faulted the United States, Japan, Canada and Russia. Japan and Russia had said they will not sign a second commitment to the Kyoto protocol, and Canada, while not as explicit, also did not want to continue that treaty. The United State never ratified Kyoto in the first place, and held out for an agreement that covers all of the points set out in a document written at the 15th Conference of Parties in Copenhagen last year.

Non-governmental organizations at the meeting this week said the agreement reached includes virtually everything that was in the Copenhagen Accord.

Details of the 100-page Cancun Agreements will emerge over the next several days, and negotiations on this document will continue for the coming year. Delegates will meet again Nov. 28-December 9, 2011, in Durban, South Africa.

This first appeared Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010, in Going Green in Cancun at www.kentucky.com