Cancun Agreement Breathes Life into Uncertain Future of Climate Treaty

I have to say I was hoping for more at the climate talks in Cancun, Mexico. To be there as, unexpectedly, the parties (especially the U.S. and China) put aside their own interests to take bold action for the greater good would have been quite something. It was naïve, close to impossible, and just not going to happen. But a guy can hope.

What I did get – what we all got – was a wake up call.

I have to say I was hoping for more at the climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.  To be there as, unexpectedly, the parties (especially the U.S. and China) put aside their own interests to take bold action for the greater good would have been quite something.  It was naïve, close to impossible, and just not going to happen. But a guy can hope.

What I did get – what we all got – was a wake up call. The window of opportunity during which countries can sign a strong, legally binding agreement that will have any impact on climate change is closing as the panoply of economic self interests that countries bring with them to the talks grows larger and larger. The only way to bridge that divide will be brick by brick.

In that regard and despite no history being made in Cancun, the agreement reached during the last two weeks of negotiations may have been the best anyone could hope for.  A barely-beating heart is better than no heart at all, no matter how you spin it.  Friends of the Earth called the agreement “A weak and ineffective agreement but at least a small and fragile lifeline for continued negotiations.” U.S. chief negotiator Todd Stern, White House Special Climate Envoy, called the package of agreements “a significant step forward that builds on the progress made in Copenhagen.”

On the two major issues – mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the impacts of climate change – progress was made.  The agreement commits all countries, both developed and developing, to take action to reduce emissions and sets up a new Global Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries deal with the inevitable effects of global warming.

Also, the agreement recognizes for the first time in a climate deal the importance of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), a program that helps countries keep carbon stored in vast tropical rainforests instead of cutting them down.  Tropical deforestation accounts for 12 to 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year.  REDD, if implemented right, could have huge benefits for forest dwelling animals and biodiversity overall, and the World Bank has proposed paying a premium for protecting forests that are habitat for large, wide ranging species such as tigers, elephants, jaguars, and orangutans.

Next stop for the climate talks is Durban, South Africa one year from now, though the negotiations will traverse a series of intersessional meetings along the way.  Nobody is saying “Durban Protocol” just yet, however.  Countries and observers learned their lesson about putting a deadline on a final deal back in Copenhagen.  Progress in Durban could also be limited, especially since a major roadblock is the political situation in the U.S., considered unfriendly to climate change action to say the least.

In Cancun, though, countries seem to have at least set down a marker for an endpoint to be reached, which makes it much easier to count the steps that will be needed to get there.  If enough steps are taken forward, in Durban and beyond, a legally binding climate agreement may actually appear on the horizon one day, though nobody know what the weather will be like when it finally does.

--PT

For more information on IFAW efforts to protect animal habitats around the world, visit www.ifaw.org

Comments: 1

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

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