Will Anything Be Accomplished at the Cancun Climate Summit?

By Andrew Moseman
Dec 2, 2010 11:39 PMNov 20, 2019 5:02 AM


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After the mess of a meeting at the last international climate summit, one year ago in Copenhagen, the easy answer to "what might the world accomplish at this year's meeting in Cancun?" is, well, nothing. That's essentially the posture of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva toward the current talks.

"No big leader is going, only environment ministers at best. We don't even know if foreign ministers are going. So there won't be any progress," Lula, who himself decided not to travel to Mexico, told reporters in Brasilia. [AFP]

Just about everyone present concedes the world doesn't have the stomach or inclination for serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. But will anything—even agreements on incremental changes—come out of Cancun? Non-CO2 gasses Leaders of the United Nations and European Union echoed Lula's pessimism when it comes to dealing with carbon dioxide. CO2, however, while it incites most of the political rancor about climate agreements, isn't the only greenhouse gas.

Other potent warming agents include three short-lived gases — methane, some hydrofluorocarbons and lower atmospheric ozone — and dark soot particles. The warming effect of these pollutants, which stay in the atmosphere for several days to about a decade, is already about 80 percent of the amount that carbon dioxide causes. The world could easily and quickly reduce these pollutants; the technology and regulatory systems needed to do so are already in place. [The New York Times]

Closing a logging loophole?Another item that may be discussed at Cancun is a loophole in carbon accounting for logging. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which many nations (not including the United States) agreed to emission reduction targets, carried a subsection called land use, land use change and forestry

(LULUCF). Under that section, nations can reportedly avoid accounting for the greenhouse effects of their logging operations.

In total, the loophole would account for some 450 megatons of climate-changing emissions each year, according to the Climate Action Network (CAN), a coalition of more than 500 organizations. That's equivalent to about 75 percent of Canada's total yearly emissions, or five percent of the global total. Clearing forests is responsible for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN estimates. Managing the sector is seen as a critical component of a future global warming deal. [SolveClimateNews]

Throw money at it One thing the world did achieve at Copenhagen 2009 was an agreement that wealthy nations would put together a fund of $100 billion by 2020 to support emissions reductions (though that was far less than the total developing nations wanted). In the absence of action, at least the plan to compile funding is still going ahead:

Jonathan Pershing, who leads the U.S. delegation, said progress this year could be made on reducing emissions by protecting forests that absorb CO2 and on starting a “green fund” that would help poor nations adapt to climate change. “If countries take a determined and pragmatic view we can make progress on anchoring mitigation pledges,” Pershing said at a press conference after talks began in Cancun. “We can make progress on creating a green fund. Balanced advances in all of these would be an important contribution in dealing with the climate change problem.” [Bloomberg]The thorn of Kyoto While the Cancun meeting seeks an update of the Kyoto Protocol, the legacy of that agreement's failings (particularly the U.S. refusal to sign) still stings enough to hold up Cancun talks 13 years later.

Kyoto backers say that any legally binding Kyoto extension should also bind the United States to cut emissions, and include climate actions by developing countries. "We will sternly oppose debate for extending the Kyoto Protocol into a second phase which is unfair and ineffective," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.... Failure to agree a modest package in Cancun would raise doubts about the future of Kyoto beyond 2012. [Reuters]

Good riddance, COP? The Cancun meeting is officially designated COP16, or the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

. Frankly, it's a weird setup.

The UN talks in Cancun are essentially two tracks, with linkages. One track gathers all 194 parties under the UNFCCC, including the United States, on worldwide action beyond 2012. The other gathers the 193 parties to the Kyoto Protocol -- everyone but the United States. [AFP]

And if the disappointment of Copenhagen is compounded by a bust at Cancun, Grist warns

that perhaps this gathering of the nations to address climate will lose momentum altogether.

"There is a risk if you don't make significant progress in Cancun that countries and others are going to start spending their energy in other forums," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute. Some countries have suggested that venues like the G20 might make it easier to hash out disagreements. But those, Morgan points out, don't generally include the least-developed nations and those most vulnerable to climate change. [Grist]

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80beats: Day One: U.N. Climate Summit Begins in Copenhagen

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