Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cancun: A Climate Meet With a Difference?

Yet another UN Climate Conference came to an end at Cancun, Mexico, ten days ago. amidst the customary climate of 'cautious optimism' invariably relenting to 'an agreement to talk further' on the Kyoto protocol.

In light of the Copenhagen conference that proved a fiasco with climate talks falling through, the Cancun conference is regarded in a favourable light even by sceptics. For Cancun has achieved the commitment of rich countries to "the goal" of creating a fund, that starting in 2020 would spend $100 billion a year.

However, as I see it, this basically boils down to the clich├ęd pledge to 'help poor countries develop on a cleaner path', that has become nothing more than a rhetoric.

It is now a blatantly obvious fact that the largest emitters, U.S.A. and China, are more keen on adopting the laidback policy to climate change issues, by assisting 'poor' developing economies to adopt cleaner technologies, rather than going ahead with its Climate Bill or undertaking serious commitments towards a self-sustained greener economy.

It is not a surprise that "the details—such as where the money would come from" were left "for another day", an uncertain date in the future, for another global conference, attended by representatives and media persons burning up thousands of more air-miles(read energy), and spending taxpayer's money at a resort for yet another insignificant round of talks.

Robert Orr of U.N feels "progress was made on all fronts". he actually refers to 'the agreement' on climate change mitigation commitments, and 'the system for monitoring, reporting and verifying those commitments'.

Let's see what different Govt. spokespersons have to say

"It's really complicated stuff, talking about trying to regulate entire economies, trying to get economies onto lower-carbon paths," Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, said in a news conference after the conclusion of the meeting Saturday. "If you can take good steps every year, that's a better way to make progress" than trying to solve the climate problem in a single agreement”.

It would be "neither fair nor effective" for Japan to pledge deeper emissions cuts without more action by the world's largest emitters," Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japan's top climate negotiator, said.

US climate envoy Todd Stern's remarks about "climate bribery" have been analysed in context to its arrogant spirit, when he said, countries asking for aid were in no position to accuse the U.S. of bribery.

"you can't on the one hand ask for and make a legitimately strong case for the need for climate assistance and then on the other hand turn around and accuse us of bribery".

This comes in the wake of evidence of US strong-arm tactics and bribery to force countries sign a voluntary agreement at the Copenhagen climate summit, just prior to the Cancun conference.

With respect to the Kyoto Protocol.

The 1997 international treaty that obligates rich countries that ratified it, to start cutting their emissions, is still on hold, as the Cancun talks did not address any specifics to cutting emissions by the major carbon emitting nations.

"The Cancun document urged rich countries to sign up for a tougher round of emissions reductions after 2012, when the Kyoto treaty's current mandates are set to expire," Japan has indicated it doesn't intend to take on deeper emission-cutting obligations under a future treaty unless China and the U.S., too, pledge to shoulder a big chunk of the cost of a climate cleanup".

Neither country is subject to a requirement under the Kyoto Protocol to cut its emissions by a specific amount, the major catch that continues even in the aftermath of the Cancun agreement for formal talks.

Analysing the Cancun Agreement

While the Copenhagen agreement did not restrict the largest carbon emitters, U.S. and China, to abide by emission restrictions, Article 20, paragraph 2, and Article 21, paragraph 7 of the Kyoto Protocol, is the key clause that reminds no country is obligated to take targets under the second phase of Kyoto. The fact that the insertion of this clause was essential to winning Japanese support for the Cancun Agreements, is a foregone conclusion.

The cleverly drafted Cancun Agreement has sops for many nations, while avoided the commitment centred Kyoto talks completely.

Carbon capture and storage projects (CCS) are made eligible for carbon credits under Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism, a placate for Saudi Arabia, Australia, Kuwait and Venezuela, with special recognition for Turkey and other nations "still transitioning to a market economy".

The spirit of the Cancun accord itself pursues the lines of 'provision' without any 'mechanism'. Although a Green Global Fund has been instituted under the Cancun Agreement, with World Bank as trustee, no mechanisms have been laid down for control and funding.

Even while allowing for a market mechanism to help wealthy nations prevent tropical deforestation in developing countries, the actual ground rules have not been covered.

All in all, the agreement, while saving the Kyoto protocol by not making any denouncements, did not make any commitments or provide for emission targets whatsoever. It has been largely hailed as a legal finesse, that neither commits nor deters, but defers important issues while ensuring escape route for the highest emitting nations.

The Guardian analyses the intangible fallouts and concludes very aptly, that there is no future to these climate change talks.

At the same time, must one be glad that while there was danger of talks faltering at Cancun, the climate negotiators did not go ahead with any geo-engineering ideas?

So what next? Do we have time to ponder upon the geo-political nuances of climate issues, while climate change continues its path of erratic and extreme weather patterns, with the potential for untold damage, costs and disaster-in-the-waiting?

While 193 nations debated on how to adapt to climate change, the villagers of Tabi some 120 miles away from this resort town of Cancun, are already grappling with climate change and extreme weather conditions.

Ironically, Cancun’s own beaches are threatened by erosion, with rising sea levels and increasing hurricanes already destroying the beaches of this resort town, that contributes a significant portion to Mexico's economy.

So while climate changes continue making its indelible mark across the world, the Cancun Climate Meet has defintiely made a difference in the political mindset of emerging economies and think-tank groups, if not bent the aloof stance of the U.S., the largest carbon emitting nation.

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