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Moving beyond Cancun’s breakthrough

by Imelda V. Abaño, Business Mirror Correspondent

Sunday, 12 December 2010, CANCUN, Mexico—The United Nations climate summit here ended with a small step toward meeting the deleterious effects of an altered climate especially on developing and island nations. They agreed to build up institutions to deliver the necessary adaptation technologies funded by a “green fund.”

The limited climate deal according to delegates could lead finally to a treaty that is legally

binding, mandating the reduction of manmade greenhouse gases to levels that will keep the earth’s temperature increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Such a legally binding climate agreement may see the light of day when countries reconvene at next year’s climate conference—expected to involve even tougher work than last year’s Copenhagen and the just-concluded Cancun–in Durban, South Africa, some optimistic delegations said.

Philippine delegation head Lucille Sering noted it was the first time in three years the 193 nations agreed

to specific climate actions. These were to renew a framework to reduce greenhouse gases, in effect extending the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, and a multibillion-dollar annual Green Climate Fund for financial and technical support for developing and island countries acutely threatened by flooding, sinking, drought, fiercer storms and

moribund ocean-food sources.

With these agreements, heads of state, ministers, and lead negotiators put behind them the specter of last year’s failed Copenhagen summit and “the inertia of mistrust.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the outcome in Cancun has given all nations “important tools” to take actions against climate change. “While there is much work yet to do, the success of the UN conference on climate change in Cancun has set the world on the path to a safer, more prosperous, and sustainable world for all.”

Sering, also the vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission, said the conference made measurable progress in some important areas, adding that a lot more work needs to be accomplished in the coming years. “We made progress, not in all areas, but it is still progress nonetheless. We look forward to working, using this draft text as a stepping stone towards further progress for the benefit of not only this generation but also for those yet unborn.”

Even at the start of the climate talks here, the Philippines was firm in calling for the creation of a new climate fund to help poorer countries, such as the Philippines, to cope with the devastating effects of global warming.

“The new fund with a responsive governance mechanism ensuring a balanced allocation for adaptation and mitigation is absolutely necessary to enable us to avoid the disastrous consequences of a rapidly changing climate,” added Sering.

Renato Redentor Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said that although the agreement reached in Cancun “is not perfect and has a lot of limitations, the outcome was not bad at all. It was groundbreaking to have robust agreement to establish a green climate fund; great progress was again made on saving the forests; and the negotiations are alive and thus with plenty of potential groundbreaking decisions that can be made next year.”

Constantino said, “The multilateral process is alive and, despite the setbacks brought about by one year of mistrust going back to the Copenhagen debacle, there is a real, strong feeling that we can again reach higher for the next climate talks.”

Todd Stern, United States climate-change envoy, said in an early morning press conference that the Cancun climate deal is significant progress making all countries to move forward. “It’s a positive thing to see a worldwide agreement that includes all the major economies.”

The US, which alone among rich countries never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, has long argued that it will not agree to a legally binding emissions reduction unless China and other fast-growing economies like India also agreed to limit emissions.

Stern added the progress in Cancun might give a political push to their climate bill in limbo in their legislature.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, lauded all nations. “The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored.”

She added, “Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause. They have shown that consensus in a transparent and inclusive process can create opportunity for all.”

There had been a lot of criticism that the climate conference is unwieldy and should be restructured but Figueres’ statements tend to belie this, especially since governments have given a “clear signal that they are headed towards a low-emissions future together, they have agreed to be accountable to each other for the actions they take to get there, and they have set it out in a way which encourages countries to be more ambitious over time.”

Bolivia is, however, one of the few holdouts—they include Japan and Russia–and has strongly opposed the Cancun agreement, saying that the plan demanded too little of developed countries in greenhouse-gas emissions reduction.

Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon said, “For us this is not a step forward. It is a step backward as what is being done here is to postpone the discussions on the Kyoto Protocol.”

That may be so, but Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, warned that countries must continue the climate talks for a legally binding agreement by next year in Durban, because “failure to deliver on the key outstanding issues will significantly undermine investment in clean-energytechnologies and other concrete action on mitigation.”

Photo of the Mayan ruins of the Temple of the Winds in Tulum (near Cancun), Mexico by iCSC Chair Ateng Ballesteros.