The December 11 closure of the 16th Conference of the Parties--the COP16 global climate summit--in Cancun in Mexico was portrayed by most participants and mainstream journalists as a victory, a "step forward." U.S. State Department lead negotiator Todd Stern expressed his opinion; "Ideas that were first of all skeletal last year, and not approved, are now approved and elaborated."
Yes.....the Cancun agreements were 'approved' to great celebration from the international community.
The positive reaction is based on reaching an international consensus (though Bolivia dissented) and establishing instruments to manage the climate crisis. Cancun’s defenders argue that the last-hours agreements include acknowledgements that emissions cuts must keep world temperature increases below 2°C, with consideration to be given to lowering the target to 1.5°C.
Negotiators also endorsed greater transparency about emissions, a Green Climate Fund led by the World Bank, introduction of forest-related investments, transfers of technology for renewable energy, capacity building and a strategy for reaching legally binding protocols in future. According to UN climate official Christiana Figueres, formerly a leading carbon trader, "Cancun has done its job. Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause."
Bolivia's President Evo Morales complained, "It's easy for people in an air-conditioned room to continue with the policies of destruction of Mother Earth. We need instead to put ourselves in the shoes of families in Bolivia and worldwide who lack water and food, and suffer misery and hunger. People here in Cancún have no idea what it is like to be a victim of climate change."
For Bolivia's UN ambassador Pablo Solon, Cancun "does not represent a step forward, it is a step backwards," because the nonbinding commitments made to reduce emissions by around 15 percent by 2020 simply cannot stabilize temperature at the "level which is sustainable for human life and the life of the planet."
Even greater anger was expressed by civil society activists, including by Meena Raman of the Malaysia-based Third World Network: "The mitigation paradigm has changed from one which is legally binding--the Kyoto Protocol, with an aggregate target which is system-based, science-based--to one which is voluntary, a pledge-and-review system."
But look soberly at what was needed to reverse current warming and what was actually delivered. Negotiators in Cancun’s luxury Moon Palace hotel complex failed by any reasonable measure.
As El Salvadoran Friends of the Earth leader Ricardo Navarro lamented, "What is being discussed at the Moon does not reflect what happens on Earth”
Most specialists agree that even if the un-ambitious Copenhagen and Cancun promises are kept, the result will be a cataclysmic 4-5°C rise in world temperature over this century, and if they are not, 7°C is likely. Even with a rise of 2°C, scientists generally agree that small islands will sink, Andean and Himalayan glaciers will melt, coastal areas--such as much of Bangladesh and many port cities--will drown, and Africa will dry out, or in some places flood, so much that nine of 10 peasants will not survive.
The politicians and officials have been warned of this often enough by climate scientists, but are beholden to powerful business interests that have lined up to either promote climate denialism, or to generate national-versus-national negotiating blocs destined to fail in their race to gain most emission rights. As a result, in spite of a band-aid set of agreements, the distance between negotiators and the masses of people and the planet grew larger, not smaller, over the last two weeks.
An illusory deal
A report by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, in December 2010 noted that already 350,000 people die from natural disasters related to climate change and that this figure is likely to rise to one million people every year if we don't radically change course. Bolivia was not an obstacle to progress, it was rather the only nation daring enough to tell the truth. Rather than less Bolivias, we need more willing to stand up and say that the agreement was 'naked' and unacceptable. Perhaps if more nations – especially major emerging economies like India and Brazil - had said they would not accept an illusory deal, it could have shocked the world into moving beyond cautious approaches and acting radically for humanity and the planet.
By contrast, the Cancun agreement effectively kills off the Kyoto Protocol and replaces it with a pledge system of voluntary commitments. Not only does this lead to countries only offering what they plan to do anyway, ignoring what science demands; there is absolutely no possibility of legal penalties if a country fails to fulfil its commitments. It is an ineffective and highly dangerous way of tackling one of the biggest crises humanity has faced.
..And finally what Cancun text says
Document effectively kills of the only binding agreement, Kyoto Protocol, in favour of a completely inadequate bottom-up voluntary approach.
Increases loopholes and flexibilities that allow developed countries to avoid action, via an expansion of offsets and continued existence of ‘surplus allowances’ of carbon after 2012 by countries like Ukraine and Russia which effectively cancel out any other reductions.
Finance Commitments weakened: commitment to “provide new and additional financial resources” to developing countries have been diluted to talking more vaguely about “mobilising [resources] jointly”, with expectation that this will mainly be provided by carbon markets.
No discussion of Intellectual Property rights, repeatedly raised by many countries, as current rules obstruct transfer of key climate-related technologies to developing countries.
Constant assumption in favour of market mechanisms to resolve climate change even though this perspective is not shared by a number of countries, particularly in Latin America.
Green light given for the controversial REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme which often ends up perversely rewarding those responsible for deforestation, while dispossessing indigenous and forest dwellers of their land.
Systematic exclusion of proposals that came from the historic World Peoples' Conference on Climate Change including proposals for a Climate Justice Tribunal, full recognition of indigenous rights, and rights for nature.
Bolivia's indefatigable negotiator, Pablo Solon, put it most cogently in the concluding plenary, when he said that the only way to assess whether the agreement had any 'clothes' was to see if it included firm commitments to reduce emissions and whether it was enough to prevent catastrophic climate change.