Cancun reignites climate talks flame
Summit praised for 'resuscitating' climate talks, but many criticize it for doing too little to create any real change.
Sun, Dec 12 2010 at 7:46 PM
WISHFUL: Greenpeace activists form the word 'hope' and a question mark with their bodies during a demonstration near the site of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, on Dec. 10, 2010. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
A climate deal reached in Mexico has revived faith in UN-backed talks after last year's debacle in Copenhagen, but environmentalists warn the new measures are far less than what the planet needs.
After two exhausting weeks meeting in the resort of Cancun, more than 190 nations hammered out an accord that puts into operation a new climate fund administering billions of dollars in promised aid to poor nations.
Negotiators gave Mexico high marks for guiding the talks, after fears that last year's chaotic summit and vague agreement in Copenhagen had irreparably eroded public interest in climate action.
"You have restored the confidence of the world community in multilateralism," Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, even likening her to "a goddess" for her diplomacy.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, a Dane who helped lead the Copenhagen summit, described Espinosa as "skillful and clever." Hedegaard earlier worried that climate diplomacy would "turn into Doha," the all-but-dead talks on a global economic liberalization agreement.
But even though the Cancun talks reached an agreement, they did not take up some of the most critical issues on climate change.
"Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate," said Greenpeace International's climate policy director Wendel Trio.
Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs said that the negotiations "have resuscitated the UN talks and put them on a road to recovery."
"There is now hope for action to help the millions of poor people who are already struggling to survive the effects of climate change," he said.
The Cancun agreement set a goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. But major emitters' plans collectively fall well short of meeting the goal.
Bolivia was the one nation to refuse to accept the agreement, with its negotiator Pedro Solon repeatedly taking the microphone to denounce the deal as meaningless.
"Let's be objective about what this agreement means," Solon said. "It doesn't mean two degrees. In reality it means four degrees, which is much more catastrophic for human life and the planet's biodiversity."
Bolivia's President Evo Morales denounced it as a "bad outcome for the planet."
The Copenhagen accord also included the two degree figure. But it was never approved by the full talks, held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, after several nations protested that it was negotiated in secret.
U.S. President Barack Obama, one of more than 100 leaders to head to Copenhagen, personally brokered the deal with heads of other major emitters.
U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern — who after Copenhagen said he may give up UN-led talks for more intimate forums — hailed Cancun for giving the UN's mark of international legitimacy on decisions both new and old.
"Obviously the package is not going to solve climate change by itself, but I think it is a big step forward," Stern told reporters.
Mexico studied the Copenhagen saga and discouraged heads of state from coming to negotiate, instead laying the groundwork over months at lower levels.
The Mexicans also insisted on transparency and assigned developed and developing nations to work in pairs on ways to break through key roadblocks.
Some praised Mexico for focusing only on attainable goals.
Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim, a veteran negotiator who tried to broker an end to Sri Lanka's civil war, hailed Mexico for choosing a "step-by-step, floor-by-floor" approach on a climate agreement.
"After Copenhagen, many of us gave up on the 'big bang' idea," he told the Mexican hosts. "What you achieved in Cancun is remarkable — you have constructed many floors."
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition