Cancun Agreement Maintains Modest Climate Momentum

If you agree that climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution, then the recent agreement achieved in Cancun, Mexico is reason for hope – and succeeded in a few areas where the much more lauded conference in Copenhagen last year failed.

Last year at this time, the world saw its very high expectations for a binding international agreement dashed in Copenhagen. As a result, it was easy for the meeting in Cancun to exceed the very low expectations set for the outcome of this important UN climate gathering of 193 nations.

It wasn’t a complete rebirth of the climate movement – no big “big bang” moment. But Andrew Light at the Center for American Progress has called the agreement in Cancun a “moderately sized bang.” Jake Schmidt of NRDC deems it a “foundation on which to build future action.” Which was exactly what it should be.

The Copenhagen Accord was widely dubbed a “failure,” even though it was clear before the meeting that the United States could not commit to a binding international agreement without action in the US Senate on a climate bill. But over the last year, anger about the lack of US leadership has been transformed into a constructive international effort to salvage what was good about the Copenhagen Accord and validate it in Cancun.

As a result, 

  • In Cancun, the UN ratified the fragile last-minute Copenhagen agreement struck between China and the US governing how developing countries that were also major emitters would measure, report and verify emissions. Such “transparency” is the linchpin of future agreements.
  • In Cancun, the UN enshrined the voluntary emission reduction commitments made pursuant to the Copenhagen Accord by individual countries which together represent over 80 percent of today’s emissions. The agreement “anchors” these pledges in an agreement and maintains momentum towards a binding document in the future. 
  • In Cancun, the parties reaffirmed the financial pledges made in Copenhagen to deliver $30 billion in fast start funds through 2012 and to reach a scale of $100 billion a year by 2020. Questions left hanging in Denmark regarding the governance of this flow of funds, and accountability for its use, were answered in Mexico.

Progress was also made on providing the infrastructure and support for harnessing the resources of the developed world to address deforestation, clean technology deployment, and adaptation.

Yes, every one of these bullet points is riddled with the caveats and conditions of diplomacy and intransigence. But if we are to prevent the collapse of our natural systems while continuing to provide jobs in a growing economy, we simply cannot turn our backs on the efforts of international negotiators to keep this hope alive.

All in all, the effort in Cancun was positive and makes more likely the day when the world’s major carbon polluters – particularly the United States and China – find common ground in a binding treaty, forcing worldwide action ambitious enough to hold the increase in average global temperatures to levels that avoid catastrophic effects both to our natural world and to our economies.