climate change current affairs

The Cancun climate agreement

We have a climate change agreement. You could be forgiven for not noticing. I don’t know if it’s got more press elsewhere, but with the news breaking after an all night session, it didn’t make the Saturday papers and was somewhat eclipsed by angry protesting of one sort or another.

Still, there it is, the Cancun Agreements, signed by 193 countries. So what have we got?

Well, first of all, let’s just say that any agreement at all from this “vast itinerant bureaucracy” is a nice surprise. The run-up to the conference was one big exercise in lowering expectations. As it turns out, people got along much better than had been feared. Mexico ran open and inclusive talks, with none of the back-room secret deals of Copenhagen and the suspicion and power-games that accompanied them. For this, foreign minister and chair Patricia Espinosa deserves our thanks.

The good news:

  • All countries have agreed the need to cut emissions, including developing countries.
  • China and India have agreed to emissions targets for the first time, China’s growing clean energy industry giving it a new incentive to make the talks work.
  • The conference formally adopted the goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees.
  • A finance package was also agreed, providing billions for adaptation in poorer countries.
  • A deal to pay countries not to cut down their forests was negotiated, slowing deforestation and creating a mechanism to value standing forests over timber.

The bad news:

  • It won’t be enough to stop destabilising the climate – industrialised countries need to reduce their emissions by 25-40% in the next decade, and have agreed to 16%.
  • There was agreement that emissions should peak “as soon as possible”, but no deadlines or targets were set. 2015 is the date usually cited for staying below 2 degrees of warming.
  • The US is still out in the cold, obstructing and prevaricating, its domestic politics on lockdown when it comes to emissions.
  • The arrangement on forests could allow offsetting on a pretty vast scale.

As usual, the politicians are declaring the conference to be historic, and the NGOs are playing it down. The truth lies in the middle somewhere, a step forward but by no means a solution. Perhaps Wendel Trio from Greenpeace puts it best, that “Cancun may have saved the process but it has not yet saved the climate.”

For more on the agreement, see the Independent, The Ecologist, or the official conference website and the (somewhat confusing) collection of official documents.

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