Cancún seen as interim step toward global treaty


THE OUTCOME of this year’s UN climate change conference, widely seen as having “reignited” the negotiating process, is expected to encourage the EU to ramp up its target of cutting emissions by 2020 from 20 to 30 per cent.

Britain’s climate and energy secretary Chris Huhne said the Cancún deal – adopted by acclamation in the early hours of Saturday morning – “definitely makes an agreement on 30 per cent . . . more likely”, and he expected more EU member states to back this move.

“We have strengthened the international climate regime,” said EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “All parties should now take domestic action to reduce or limit their emissions so that we can keep global warming below 2 degrees.”

She acknowledged that Cancún was only an interim step. “We have a long, challenging journey ahead of us. Whether it’s doable in a short period of time, to get a legally binding deal, I don’t know.”

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), described the outcome as a “beacon of hope”, saying it had restored faith in the multilateral climate change negotiating process to deliver results.

However, Minister of State Ciarán Cuffe warned that time was running out.

“The Cancún agreements will save the UNFCCC process . . . but saving the planet will still take some time – and we unfortunately do not have time on our side.”

He said Ireland was playing its part by contributing €23 million this year to an EU fund for vulnerable developing countries.

Mr Cuffe also promised last Thursday that the Government’s Climate Change Bill would be published before Christmas.

Cancún establishes a new green climate fund to provide aid for developing countries, with a target figure of €100 billion a year from 2020 onwards. For the first three years, to the dismay of many, it will be under the supervision of the World Bank.

Conservationists also gave qualified approval for the decision made on Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).

Pat Finnegan of the Irish climate group Grian said Mexican diplomacy had “largely succeeded in its primary ambition for Cancún – securing a balanced package of decisions capable of putting the train back on the tracks”, but there was “a long, long way left to go”.

Sorley McCaughey of Christian Aid noted that the Cancún conference had made “some progress” on finance, forests, adaptation and technology, but there needed to be “dramatic cuts in rich countries’ emissions” and a secure future for the Kyoto Protocol.

Rather unexpectedly, the “Cancún agreements” – as the deal has been dubbed – acknowledged the goal of reducing emissions from industrialised countries by 25-40 per cent (relative to 1990) by 2020. Current pledges would only deliver about 16 per cent.

Any decision on whether more ambitious targets will be adopted by making new commitments under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – the only international treaty on climate change – or by some other means has been deferred to next year’s UN conference in Durban.

In a deft exercise of diplomatic finesse, the Cancún deal kept alive the possibility that Kyoto could be extended beyond its 2012 expiry date by saying that “further work” was needed to ensure there would be no gap between its first and second “commitment periods”.

This was not sufficient to satisfy Bolivia, whose president, Evo Morales, had accused rich countries of causing “ecocide” with the loss of thousands of lives by not making deeper cuts in their emissions. Bolivia’s objections were overruled by conference chair Patricia Espinosa.

Many delegates paid tribute to Ms Espinosa, who is Mexico’s foreign minister, and to the chief Mexican negotiator, Luis Alfonso d’Alba, for the skill they had shown in working for a successful outcome.

The Cancún deal bridges the gulf between developed and developing countries on the scale of future emissions cuts and formally “inscribes” the voluntary pledges made by 140 countries under last year’s flawed Copenhagen Accord – but without formally adopting it.

Another skilful compromise was reached on “MRV” – measuring, reporting and verifying the pledges made. This was a bottom-line demand by the US.

Climate deal: main points

KYOTO PROTOCOL:The 1997 protocol binds almost 40 industrialised nations to cut emissions by an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels during 2008-2012.

Japan says it will not sign up for a new commitment period under Kyoto because it wants developing countries to also face binding limits.

The Cancún pact says that countries will “aim to complete” work about extending the protocol. It refers to findings by a UN panel of climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations would have to fall by between 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst damage.

LONG-TERM ACTION ON EMISSIONS:The accord recognises a need to review a tougher goal of 1.5 degrees and sets a target of working out a “global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050”. Developing nations led by China and India have resisted calls for a global goal of halving world emissions by 2050.

FINANCE, TECHNOLOGY:The agreement will set up a green climate fund to help channel aid.

Developed countries have committed themselves to a goal of providing $100 billion a year in aid from 2020, agreed last year in Copenhagen.

REDUCING DEFORESTATION:The accord asks developed nations to help developing states with financial resources and tech support to work out national plans and ways to monitor forest losses.

HELPING DEVELOPING NATIONS ADAPT:The pact establishes a framework to help developing nations adapt to climate change such as droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT AND TRANSFER:A technology mechanism to help share new ways of curbing greenhouse gases will be set up. – (Reuters)