Cancun Climate Summit a Missed Opportunity for the World

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses COP16 in Cancun, Mexico.

The two-week United Nations climate summit in Cancun (COP16) wrapped up with a plan of action that promised aid for developing countries, technology transfer and the protection of more forests. But the summit was largely a failure and missed opportunity for not seeking greater accountability from countries to reduce emissions or agreeing on a more comprehensive set of solutions to climate change. has called upon countries to take action, at a minimum by extending the term of the Kyoto Protocol or by taking steps to build on the progress of Kyoto and the voluntary carbon markets. There are enough potential carbon buyers in the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada and enough potential carbon sellers in China, India, Indonesia and Brazil to create a robust carbon reduction pact. “We have the technical capability and market readiness to transform our global economy to one where clean energy costs less than dirty energy and efficient technology costs less than inefficient technology,” said President Eric Carlson. The “Cancun Agreement” received near unanimous support from member states except Bolivia, which stood alone in condemning the document as too weak in its emissions targets and its accountability of industrialized nations. Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, who presided over the conference, overruled Bolivia’s dissent and declared the agreement official, stating “consensus doesn’t mean unanimity.” Wrangling nearly 200 nations into agreement was viewed as some progress, considering the initial opposition of carbon-emitting powerhouses United States and China. Among China’s concerns was that foreign states might find themselves privy to sensitive national data. A compromise on monitoring meant that countries that fund climate mitigation can report their own progress, and nations receiving international support to fund their efforts will be subject to verification through biennial international consultations. American climate envoy Todd Stern told Reuters that China’s willingness to take on an emissions commitment and to do so in a transparent manner helps ease concerns in the US about what rapidly developing countries are doing to fight climate change. Meanwhile, the US faces tough odds of meeting its Copenhagen pledge of a 17 percent cut in emissions by 2020 given a divided Congress and continued uncertainty over the steps that EPA will take to regulate emissions. The Cancun Agreement itself is more an action plan than an executable solution. The three main areas outlined in the agreement are: • Green Climate Fund. Rich nations will deliver $30 billion by 2012 to poor countries and follow that up with an annual transfer of $100 billion by 2020 for cleaner energy and to help them adapt to climate change impacts such as drought and sea level rise. The exact source of the funds is undefined. • Forest protection. Financial mechanisms were developed to prevent clear-cutting of tropical forests that serve to store carbon from the atmosphere. Details of how forests will be monitored are to be determined. • Technology Executive Committee. The group will set up rules to transfer clean energy technologies to poor nations. The problem with this plan is it comes much too late, doesn’t go far enough to make a big dent on climate change, and lacks teeth. The international community walked away from Cancun without creating a system to enforce these points, track the dollars or measure progress. Thus it will continue to fall primarily on non-governmental actors including individuals and businesses to fight climate change. The UN’s next step will be moving to action on these points by the next climate summit in Durban, South Africa beginning in November 2011. Also on the table in South Africa is the fate of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set to expire 2012. The agreement, which included the European Union and industrialized nations but not the US, set reduction standards for greenhouse gas emissions. Renewal is uncertain as Japan and Russia are presently refusing to sign the protocol unless China and India are included.

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