COP16 Wrap-Up: An Agreement Emerges, but is it Enough?
December 13, 2010 | 2 Comments
Delegates at the 16th annual Conference of the Parties emerged from final climate talks on Saturday congratulating themselves on reaching a last minute consensus. The “Cancun Agreement”—the result of hours of late-night negotiations—represents a global commitment to tackling climate change through diplomacy. For those who are actually on the front lines of climate change, it is little more than a self-policed pledge. The agreement falls short of the commitments needed to avert the catastrophic impacts of global warming, and in so doing, it represents business as usual: it largely benefits corporations, financial institutions, and governments in the developed world while leaving local communities to suffer the consequences.
What does the Cancun Agreement do on the big issues?
- Kyoto Protocol: Any decisions on renewing Kyoto have been put off until next year. This is a step backwards, as the only science-based agreement on emissions reductions from developed countries is now likely to dismantle.
- Limiting climate change: Countries have agreed to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees celcius, which would still mean disaster for Africa, Asia and Latin America. According to the Guardian, “as it stands, there is no way that temperatures can be even held to a 2C rise. The UN itself, and leading analysts, calculate that the pledges made so far by 80 countries mean a minimum 3.2C rise.”
- Limiting emissions: While countries agree they should decrease emissions, the agreement leaves out dates, oversight, and targets.
- REDD+: Delegates have agreed to the scheme, but the major questions of how and to whom money will be distributed remain unanswered.
- Climate Fund: Countries have agreed to create a Green Fund for adaptation and energy efficient technology transfer, committing to contributions of $100 billion a year by 2020.
A summary of the final agreement’s contents is available from the Telegraph.
U.S. Politicians Benefit, but What About Everyone Else?
“This is very good from our point of view…This was the U.S. strategic vision and plan we had in 2010 when we returned from Copenhagen,” U.S. envoy Todd Stern said in a statement on the agreement to the New York Times. But how can the U.S. so thoroughly support the agreement, when it falls short in so many areas?
The answer is politics. To say the least, the conference was a windfall to U.S. political interests: U.S. delegates supported agreements while avoiding concrete and binding commitments to emissions reductions and transparency. What’s more, according to the New York Times, the U.S. also “established the World Bank as the interim trustee of the Green Fund, over the objections of many developing nations and a board half composed of donor countries.”
Thoughts From the Grassroots
In spite of media omissions and U.N. exclusions, grassroots leaders, environmental activists, and climate justice advocates are continuing to speak out.
Nnimmo Bassey, Greengrants’ advisor and chair of Friends of the Earth International said:
“The agreement reached here is wholly inadequate and could lead to catastrophic climate change. The rich countries that are primarily responsible for climate change, lead by the US, with Russia and Japan, are to blame for the lack of desperately needed greater ambition. This is a slap in the face of those who already suffer from climate change. But in the end all of us will be affected by the lack of ambition and political will of a small group of countries.”
In a statement on the final REDD agreement, CASA Chair Lucia Ortiz said:
“Mechanisms to stop deforestation are not supposed to allow rich countries to continue emitting carbon. Forests are not just stocks of carbon and they should not be commercialized. Money to protect forests must come from the developed countries.”
(an interview with Lucia that took place during the proceedings is available to the right)
A Glimmer of Hope
In spite of all the shortcomings of Cancun’s agreements, some hope remains. Unlike last year’s conference, delegates emerged with an actual agreement, one that takes the positive step of creating a climate fund. Likewise, the final consensus suggests that, though its workings are slow, diplomacy may lead to more constructive agreements in the future.
As at the end of Copenhagen, we look forward to next year. The challenge now is to raise the profile of the needs of communities on the front lines of climate change. Diplomatic channels must be held accountable for their actions towards local populations, before it’s too late.
The New York Times summary of the agreement emphasizes the outcome of the talks from the U.S. perspective, largely omitting the dissenting voices of those at the grassroots.
In contrast, the Guardian’s John Vidal provides a more thorough look at the conference’s dubious results.