Nature Canada

The Cancún Agreement

Last week saw the conclusion of the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancún, Mexico. The resulting Cancún Agreement is not legally binding, but it is more than most expected. The signatories (all negotiating parties except Bolivia, who considers the agreement ecocide) agreed to keep talking; promised to keep global temperature rise below 2 °C (without saying how); and pledged to establish a Green Climate Fund (with the World Bank as the trustee) where developed countries are expected to contribute $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries, as well as approximately $30 billion for 2010-2012 as a fast-start finance mechanism.
Two other positive advances in the climate negotiations are: 1) an agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), in which developing countries are encouraged to, and compensated for, protecting their forests.; and 2) the establishment of the Cancún Adaptation Framework, with the ‘objective of enhancing action on adaptation’.

The unresolved question is whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which contains binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries. The debate is postponed to COP17 to be held in Durban, South Africa in 2011, or in 2012, the year the Protocol expires. Unlike many countries that were willing to compromise, Canada, Japan and Russia strongly oppossed an extension of Kyoto. Canada has argued only an agreement including all countries would be effective and fair–the US has not ratified the Protocol, and India and China are exempted from cutting their emissions until 2012. Some Canadians, however, would prefer to be leaders in cutting emissions.

For many, the Cancún Agreement has revitalized the UN body regulating climate change, especially after the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Expectations were extremely low, so most have applauded the outcomes. Yet the most urgent outcome-a plan to reduce emissions and keep the global temperature rise below catastrophic levels-will have to wait until South Africa.

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