Photo: In Cancun, mañana is better than never

Pyramid of Hope presented by the global Tck Tck Tck campaign in Cancun. (Credit: Oxfam International via Flickr)

By Ryan Kadowaki, Climate Change Program Coordinator

The announcement that a "balanced package of decisions has been delivered" doesn't sound like cause for celebration, but in light of recent international efforts to address climate change, we'll take it. While the UN Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico, failed to deliver a global climate agreement, it has to be viewed as a modest success given the outcome of last year's talks in Copenhagen and the expectations coming into this year's talks.

When Copenhagen fell flat, Cancun was given a snowball's chance in you-know-what of producing a fair, ambitious, and binding global agreement. There was simply too much ground to cover.

But the talks actually progressed better than expected. Important steps were taken in a number of key areas. While it's difficult to get excited about incremental progress, it's hard not to feel encouraged in light of last year's debacle.

Countries reached a decision in Cancun on a number of key issues, some of the main ones being:

  • A commitment to enhanced action and international cooperation on adaptation to climate change;
  • An agreement on measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries and to encourage the conservation and sustainable management of forests;
  • A consensus to accelerate action on technology development and transfer. Recognizing this is critical in developing countries pursuing a low-carbon development path;
  • The reaffirmation of commitment to the Green Climate Fund that will finance adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries.

Despite laying a number of building blocks for what could be an agreement next December in South Africa, there is still a ways to go. For one thing, 2011 is the last opportunity to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol is the only compliance measure we have to hold countries accountable for their emission reduction pledges. Without it we have only voluntary commitments, and these lack the teeth to move reduction efforts fast enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The outcomes from Cancun need strengthening and it will take concerted efforts to reach the stage where a deal can be reached. If anything, Cancun was evidence that countries are willing to sit down at the table and work through some of the contentious issues. It showed that the UN process is not a hopeless forum for tackling global issues. Despite the efforts of a few nations to bog down discussions and put off their responsibilities once again, there are more than enough who are ready to move forward.

December 14, 2010

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