Archive for the ‘Cancun’ Category

Sooner or later

“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”  – Evo Morales, President of Bolivia [1]

Like that tiny voice at the back of your conscience, Bolivia* stood alone in the close of the talks in Cancun, insisting that the outcome of the negotiations simply was not enough.  Bolivia were pushing for a cut in emissions that would ensure a high probability of a maximum global temperature increase of 1ºC, while the current negotiation text was looking at a high probability of a global temperature rise of 4 ºC.  Friends of the Earth called the agreement “a slap in the face of those who suffer from climate change”.

But is it all bad news?  While Bolivia made its stand, all other countries celebrated the agreement with “rapturous applause”.  For the fist time in history, all major economies have committed to reducing their emissions, and it was acknowledged that developing countries are and will continue doing their part too. In the UK climate change secretary Chris Huhne’s words, “This is a significant turning point” [2].  The negotiation text agreed that we must keep warming below 2ºC, and emissions should ‘peak’ (the level of emissions should stop rising). The fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change was established, and countries agreed to implement a ‘payments for ecosystem services’ deal that sees developing countries being paid for reducing deforestation and degradation and improving conservation (REDD+). However, again, emissions targets are left up to the individual countries.

There is no doubt that this is good progress, and it is crucial that we have all countries in consensus before we move along at full speed.  It would also have been difficult to get countries to agree to more than they currently have. In a way, the UN’s response to Bolivia has been “not now”. Hopefully this becomes “not now but soon”. For the past 10 years we’ve been heralding “good start and good progress”es as we manoeuvre incrementally into place.  I found it extremely difficult to write this post because I was trying to differentiate the agreements from the ones I wrote about Copenhagen.

I suppose with the entire world trying to come to a consensus the process probably must be long and arduous.  I mean most, if not all countries agree that emissions must be reduced, but nations all want to make sure that the other nations will be doing their part, and of course most nations would like to get away with as much as possible (if you are interested in a more practical understanding of this, you should try to play Milinski’s Climate Change Game, a variant on a well-known game theory game called the Nash Bargaining Game).  We would, of course, like for them all to say that they would lower their emissions as much as they can, but there are at the end of the day trade-offs between lower greenhouse gas emissions and growth.  However with burgeoning green-sector technology, I wonder how necessary these trade-offs are.  Chris Huhne seems to think that the UK can actually profit from lowering emissions through starting a ‘third industrial revolution’ in green technology.

Perhaps by Durban we can get off the starting blocks and I won’t write the same post for it and loose further hope. For now, I still believe, sooner or later, we will fix this.  It’ll be a large gigantic learning experience, perhaps helpful for some future other catastrophe, but human civilization can and will curb emissions and bring greenhouse gas levels down to a more manageable level, and perhaps Mother Earth will tolerate us on her surface a little bit longer. Sooner or later.

* On a side, but relevant, note, we do know that Morales and his ambassador Solon do not believe in anything to do with environmental economics and hate the idea of markets such as REDD+.  But we believe that is only because they haven’t had anyone from the pasture explain it to them!

[1] Vidal, John. Bolivia’s defiant leader sets radical tone at Cancun climate talks – The Guardian, 11 December 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/11/cancun-talks-evo-morales

[2]Vidal, John and Suzanne Goldenburg. Deal is reached at Cancun summit – The Guardian, 11 December 2010- http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/dec/11/mexico-cancun-environment-climate-summit?intcmp=239

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The build-up to Copenhagen last year was immense, and the result – mixed.  There were a few who were happy, but most were not.  US President Barack Obama described the talks as an “unprecedented breakthrough”[1], Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary in 2009 at Copenhagen (and current Labour leader), called the talks “…chaotic, at times farcical”[2] but remained hopeful with the results from Copenhagen. George Monbiot, journalist and activist called it “chaotic and disastrous”[3], and Oxfam International called it “a triumph of spin over substance”[4].

The interesting thing is that these very different viewpoints all stem from left-winged institutions and individuals concerned with the environment, but with obviously different ideas about how far an international, high-profile conference of parties, such as Copenhagen, can go.

So what did the various nations agree to last year in Copenhagen, and what are we hoping will come out of this year’s talks in Cancun?


The agreements can be split into two types: agreements on mitigation (slowing down or stopping climate change altogether through reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (adapting to the effects of climate change – particularly as a provision given by developed countries to developing countries).


The countries agree that “deep cuts in global emissions are required… with a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius”[5]. But they don’t tell us when/how they will do this, how to ensure that everyone is doing their part, and what happens to the nations that don’t do their part. Annex I (developed countries) committed to implementing emissions targets, but were allowed to set their own[6]!

There is also provision for “Scaled up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding as well as improved access… to enable and support enhanced action on mitigation, including substantial finance to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity-building” to developing countries from developed countries. This is quantified at US$100 billion a year by 2020. However there are no assurances that the US$100 billion will be additional to existing aid commitments.


The countries also agreed that developed countries would “provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries”[5]. Here, quantity is again not mentioned.


So what do we hope to come out of Cancun?  Basically, following on from the vaguely worded Copenhagen accord, talks at Cancun are expected to hammer out the details and framework of how mitigation and adaptation will be achieved, hoping to put in place a new (strong) treaty before the Kyoto protocol (the result of the 1997 climate change conference of parties) expires in 2012.

What we don’t want is a weak treaty – one that doesn’t do enough, that nations refuse to sign, and lets others off the hook. We’ll be keeping an eye (or 14) on proceedings.

[1] A meaning and Unprecedented Breakthrough Here in Copenhagen – Jesse Lee, The White House Blog

[2] The road from Copenhagen – Ed Miliband, The Guardian

[3] Copenhagen negotiators bicker and filibuster while the biosphere burns – George Monbiot, The Guardian

[4] Historic moment, historic gathering, historic COP out – Oxfam International

[5] Copenhagen Accord

[6] Appendix I – Quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 – Copenhagen Accord

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