Climate conversations in Cancun crawling along

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | December 6, 2010 | Climate Change

As we pass the half-way mark in this year’s annual U.N. climate change talks, the differences abound between the current negotiations in Cancun, Mexico and those which concluded last December in Copenhagen, Denmark.  SACE’s executive director, Dr. Stephen Smith, and I had the privilege to observe last year’s talks (officially known as the 15th gathering of the Conference of the Parties) which were often fraught with tension during the cold, dark days in northern Europe.  Despite the tremendous build-up to COP15, and the 11th hour negotiating efforts by dozens of world leaders to craft the Copenhagen Accord, the talks ultimately concluded without a fair, ambitious, and binding treaty that science demands to protect all global citizens from the perils of accelerating climate change.

Fast forward one year, and hundreds of delegates and thousands of observers have gathered together again – this time in tropical Cancun  – to continue working towards an international climate deal.  Despite the sunnier location, expectations for this year’s summit are somewhat ‘gloomier’ than they were last year.  Developing countries remain frustrated over the pace of the discussions, China is resisting a monitoring system and some developed countries (particularly Japan) may refuse a new treaty/accord that only calls on industrialized countries to cut carbon emissions.

Although some forecast that last year’s non-legally binding Copenhagen Accord could replace the binding Kyoto Protocol (ratified by almost 200 countries), a 33-page potential agreement has been drafted that proposes all countries agree to “hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” albeit with a wide latitude for how to achieve the reductions.  And therein lies one of the biggest challenges: how to craft an equitable agreement that takes into account historic emissions (the image at the left is taken from a great interactive graphic from the UK’s Guardian) while weighing the contributions that are already beginning to mount from developing economies’ projected growth in the 21st century.

When the negotiations wrap at the end of this week, it is highly unlikely there will be a binding agreement.  While there are plenty of reasons for the absence of a global treaty, many fingers will point to the United States, where there has been a decided lack of leadership to date.  Despite rhetoric and last summer’s historic efforts in the U.S. House, the Senate has failed to continue the debate on carbon policies, and thus our nation has yet to enact a cap on carbon emissions.  The recent elections suggest Congress will be unlikely to do so in the near future.  Meanwhile, negotiators in Mexico will soldier on – some in full awareness of the enormity of their task and others, much as this scene on a Cancun beach depicts, still living in denial with a belief that voluntary actions will avert the worst climate impacts to come.

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