Cancun Climate Summit: Success for Mexico and the UN, but a Win for the Climate?


The Economist writes that wealthy and developing countries reached some “common ground” on climate change at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings that just concluded in Cancun. The deal builds on the Copenhagen accord negotiated last year (see earlier post), includes a new $100 billion “Green Fund” to aid developing countries with emission cuts and adaptation, and features a new REDD+ agreement, which will provide countries with financial rewards for reducing deforestation and new protections for the rights of indigenous people. There were agreements on technology transfer, and the UN will now play a larger role in creating a global adaptation framework. However, while the agreement may have improved the standing of Mexico and saved the UN process, it’s unclear whether it went far enough in terms of performance on reducing emissions.

Some commentators argue that the agreement demonstrated the success of Mexican diplomacy. Michael Levi, Council of Foreign Relations, argued: “By all accounts, the Mexican diplomatic team displayed great skill, giving all parties a voice while taking the reality of international power politics seriously. As a result, they eliminated silly procedural excuses for rejecting an agreed outcome, and in doing so appear to have established a much firmer foundation that the Copenhagen accord ever came close to enjoying.” The World Resources Institute (WRI) added that “in contrast to Copenhagen, the majority of countries described the process run by the Mexican presidency as transparent, enabling a basis of trust to underpin the negotiations. Countries felt they were consulted in an inclusive manner throughout 2010 and were not worried that a ‘secret text’ would emerge and trump their work in Cancun. This trust was fundamental to reaching agreement.” At Copenhagen, developing countries balked when they learned that a separate text was being formulated among key European players.

The New York Times’ opinion page also adds that the agreement is a win for the United Nations and its multilateral process, which was viewed as teetering on the edge of irrelevance. WRI argues that a “failure to make progress would have meant a true sidelining of the UNFCCC process, which most governments wanted to avoid. This dynamic likely increased their willingness to find solutions and make compromises.”

However, a number of commentators note that the agreement falls far short of what is needed to limit a temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius. The Guardian says under current committments, there would be a 3.2 degree celsius rise, a “total disaster.” Also, The Economist notes there was no deal on agriculture’s impacts on the climate or any agreement on the emissions from shipping and planes. In addition, Japan effectively removed itself from being bound by the Kyoto protocol’s emissions targets after 2012, asking for a new loophole.

The fact that other countries agreed to this may mean major countries like the U.S. and China don’t really expect any new binding agreement like Kyoto to appear. The Copenhagen accord, which was largely integrated into the UN process in Cancun, only asks countries to commit to reducing emissions and set their own national targets. Perhaps most countries know that a new Kyoto-like agreement with binding targets is not likely to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, leaving the U.S. out of any future global binding agreement again.  

Read more from WRI on the details of the agreement and also check out The Guardian’s comprehensive coverage.

Also, state department documents obtained by WikiLeaks outline how the Dalai Lama is now more concerned with addressing climate change on the Tibetan plateau than winning autonomony and religious and cultural freedoms in Tibet. Read the article.

Image credit: UNFCCC Sesssion / The Guardian

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