COP16—Cancún Climate Conference
Author and Page information
- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/791/cop16-cancun-climate-conference.
- To print all information (e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links), use the print version:
November 29 – December 10, 2010, Cancún, Mexico was the venue for the 16th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the 16th Conference of the Parties — or COP 16.
This conference came a year after the Copenhagen conference which promised so much but offered so little. It also came in the wake of WikiLeaks’ revelations of how the US in particular tried to cajole various countries to support an accord that served US interests rather than the world’s.
What resulted was an agreement that seems much watered down, even an almost reversal, from original aims and spirit of climate change mitigation. In effect, the main polluters (the industrialized nations) who should have borne the brunt of any emission reduction targets, have managed to reduce their commitments while increasing those of the developing countries; a great
global warming swindle if any!
On this page:
- WikiLeaks revelations provides context for Cancún outcome
deliversbut was it any good?
- Inaction in 2009 alone adds $1 trillion to reaching climate change goals
- Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle Sidelined Again
- Trillions for Wall Street, Pennies for Earth
- Does tackling climate change have to mean lowering living standards?
- Will we ever agree on a common course of action?
- More Information
WikiLeaks revelations provides context for Cancún outcome
After the failure of COP15, there was more hope and pressure on this meeting to deliver. Yet, COP15 as well as more recent WikiLeaks’ revelations perhaps dampened expectations.
As summarized by The Guardian, WikiLeaks cables revealed how the US manipulated climate accord with embassy dispatches showing America used various tactics to get support for a weakened Copenhagen accord, including:
- Threats, and
- Promises of aid
Why would the US be interested in an accord when historically it has typically been against climate treaties discussed at the UN? Some say that Obama’s views are quite different to his predecessor George Bush, and so we’d expect the US to engage more. Beneath those rosy views, however, the Guardian reveals some realpolitik:
But most countries are in it for the money, so to speak: Saudi Arabia, usually doubting human-induced climate change at all, cables also reveal, has
two faces to their climate change negotiations: they want a way to gracefully step down from their previously hostile positions, while they want to also tap into climate adaptation funds as means to help diversify their economy away from fossil fuels.
The Maldives, Carrington noted in the above article, was quite easy to tempt into supporting the Copenhagen accord with promises of financial aid.
As recent years have shown, the European Union also seems to be interested in supporting the US position. But there may be rifts in the EU, too, with the current EU president predicting failure at Cancún and being disappointed at being snubbed by the US and China in Copenhagen, delivering a blow to the EU’s self-acclaimed pioneering position on climate change talks.
Although China had thus far been against the Copenhagen accord, one aspect they are interested in is the opening up of technology transfer, as it will help their economy. Another cable also suggests that US presidential overtures to Brazil may be needed to get their support, as they are currently siding with India and China.
Carrington also summarizes a diplomatic exchange between the US and Ethiopia:
Another approach discussed between the US and EU was how to handle some of the leading developing nations:
Some 140 nations have indicated support of the accord (roughly 75% of the countries that are party to the UN climate change convention which is in the range that the US have been targeting.
In a way, none of this is really surprising: it is how politics works. It perhaps comes more of a surprise because we never hear the details, or suspicions of these actions being confirmed. Certainly politician’s claims of sincerity to fight climate change for everyone’s interests and benefits etc should be met with cynicism, as each wants to maximize their own interests.
Furthermore, stances by say the US, and increasingly Europe, to blame China, India, and others for lack of progress, for example, should also be met with some cynicism and realization that this is part of a diplomatic and propaganda agenda. It is easy to vilify the growing economies that are clearly emitting a lot more greenhouse gases, but packaging this in a way that ignored historical burdens (detailed further below) is not honest, either.
All these revelations came during the conference. Although it seems to have had little impact on the final outcome, it should give some context to understanding what happened at Cancún.
delivers but was it any good?
When the Cancún meeting ended, a UN press release described it as delivering a
balanced package of decisions that
restores faith in multilateral process.
However, given the WikiLeaks context above, and the additional details that follow, that description seems almost Orwellian!
Some of the agreement points include
- Both industrialized and developing nations agreeing to reduce emissions
- Raise $30 billion in funds (already mentioned the year before) for a fast start up, with the intention for $100 billion by 2020
- Design a Green Climate Fund with a board with
equalrepresentation from developed and developing countries
- Increase technology cooperation
That same press release reported that UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said,
Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause. They have shown that consensus in a transparent and inclusive process can create opportunity for all.
Yet, as Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, an inter-governmental think tank for a number of developing country notes, almost the opposite happened:
- Technically there was no consensus
- WTO-style negotiations took place (typically non-transparent, including only a few select countries meeting together behind closed doors, etc)
- The apparent openness/consensus comes after these closed room meetings where the arm-twisting and deals are done and decisions are made
- The level of ambition to do anything has been remarkably low
- The conference has helped pass the burden of climate mitigation onto developing countries.
equal representation from developed and developing countries for a green climate fund seems unequal. Of course, the funds will largely come from developed countries, but they represent a small percentage of world population, and as the WikiLeaks cables reveal, the US were not happy with Ethiopia’s suggestion of an panel to monitor international financial contributions and pledges under the accord. This implies that the
equality will likely be a false balancing.
Although on the surface the meeting outcome seems rosy, the details of course reveal reason to worry. Martin Khor describes the terrible negotiating process that took place in Cancún, and while only a summary is cited here, it is worth looking at his original article:
Khor also describes Japan’s resistance to continuing the Kyoto Protocol into a second period (which is what was agreed initially — the first period was up to 2012, with 2009 being the target year to define details for the next period, which many rich countries have long resisted, and have not even reached their own promised/legally binding 2012 targets for emission reductions).
As well as Japan, there were also fears of Russia, Canada and Australia rejecting a second commitment period, with Russia confirming they would not renew the Kyoto Protocol.
The previous article also notes Japan’s negotiator Akira Yamada saying a renewal of Kyoto was
not an appropriate way or an effective way or a fair way to tackle climate change. The use of
fair can be overloaded, as detailed further below on the principle of
common but differentiated responsibilities where it is fair that nations like Japan reduce their emissions more than developing nations, because of the total accumulated greenhouse gases over the past decades.
Targets agreed to are much weaker than the original Kyoto Protocol had defined:
In other words, for the developing nations, the Kyoto Protocol is the only legal agreement that binds rich countries to emission cuts. Without it, fears of rich countries opting for weaker measures are slowly coming true.
And so, as John Vidal reported, the
Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (Alba) group of nine Latin American countries — who claim they are backed by African, Arab countries and other developing nations — said they were not prepared to see an end to the treaty that legally requires all of its signatories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) received a lot of backing. While curbing deforestation is important, using it in a carbon exchange mechanism of some sort is controversial, because carbon stored in forests is not as permanent (dying vegetation releases that stored carbon). Also, rich countries help finance forest-saving actions in developing countries, they will get credits (to pollute) while poorer countries will be left with more expensive things to deal with (forest-saving actions being low-hanging fruit, so to speak). Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, adds:
Another Inter Press Service article also adds that
many Indigenous and civil society groups reject REDD outright if it allows developed countries to avoid real emission reductions by offsetting their emissions.
Ultimately, the developing nations gave up a lot more compared to industrialized nations who have hardly done anything in the past decade or more in terms of meaningful emissions reductions:
And while mainstream media reporting may give the opposite impression, as Khor noted above, and Sunita Narain from the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment further explains, developing countries have given up a lot with little in return:
The various other agreements, Khor notes, are also vague and unclear in how they will be realized.
The final consensus reached was also controversial as Khor outlines:
For more on how the various WTO meetings have been conducted and collapsed, see this site’s section on WTO Doha “Development” Trade Round Collapse, 2006
Sunita Narain is quite scathing of some of the implications of the final outcome:
Probably with tongue in cheek, Stephen Leahy perhaps did find a way to see how this meeting could be regarded as a success:
Inaction in 2009 alone adds $1 trillion to reaching climate change goals
Ars Technica summarized an International Energy Agency (IEA) report noting that
- Globally, we’re subsidizing fossil fuel use to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars (over $300bn in 2009)
- Fossil fuel subsidies are over 5 times the subsidies going to renewable energy ($57bn in 2009)
- Inaction on climate goals has added $1 trillion onto the cost of reaching them—in 2009 alone.
This is a lot of money, but the pledges at Cancún seem far less ambitious. But trillions were quickly made available to tackle the global financial crisis as mentioned further below.
Why do these meetings seem to get so bogged down in stalemates? Is it not clear that India, China, US and a few others need to agree to cut their emissions? These questions are quite common but also reveals a simplicity that perhaps politicians and mainstream media should take partial blame for.
The rest of this article is a repeat of what was written a year ago on the COP 15 page on this site, and that it needs to be repeated here is another blow to credible mainstream reporting and politician rhetoric:
Common but Differentiated Responsibility Principle Sidelined Again
As Inter Press Service (IPS) summarized:
This site’s section on climate justice has long gone into some detail about
- How the
Common but Differentiated Responsibilityacknowledges that rich nations have emitted most of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, that developing countries’ emissions are likely to rise on their path to industrialization and trying to meet basic social and development needs; and that therefore while the goals are the same, the means to tackle climate change will be different.
- Year after year at climate summits, it seems this principle is often ignored by some rich nations and their media.
- It has therefore been easier in public to blame nations like China and India for reacting negatively and being uncooperative when faced with pressure to submit to emission reduction targets (before many rich nations demonstrate they can do the same).
Greenhouse gases tend to remain in the atmosphere for many decades so historical emissions are an important consideration.
The following shows that the rich nations (known as
Annex I countries in UN climate change speak) have historically emitted more than the rest of the world combined, even though China, India and others have been growing recently. This is why the
common but differentiated responsibilities principle was recognized.
(Chart updated in January 2012 to add data up to 2008 and preliminary estimates for 2009 and 2010)
No doubt, developing nations should be aware of their recent rise and also do more to curb their emissions. But given their later entry to industrialization and that their per capita emissions are even less than rich nations, more emission reduction could also be achieved per person in rich nations.
The US and others have characterized the campaign for climate justice and equality to the atmosphere as a way to claim climate
That seems reasonable. However, one of the implications is that any agreement that is subsequently drawn up will, in effect, put disproportionately more burden on the poorer countries to tackle a problem they did not largely cause. The poor are less likely to have the resources to do so, which also means that tackling climate change is less likely to be successful.
This is why rich nations are being asked to seriously think about the type and way they use energy in addition to helping the poorer nations (not necessarily
reparations but through meaningful technology and adaptation assistance — which would be far less costly than the bailouts readily handed to people that did cause a major problem).
In addition, there is little fairness in asking China, India and others to be subject to emission targets when many rich countries didn’t achieve the watered down Kyoto targets themselves.
Some emerging nations are in a grey area — India, China, Brazil, etc are rapidly developing and although they have enormous social and development problems outstanding, some of their wealthy are as wealthy (some more so) as those in industrialized nations. As such, wealthier developing nations aren’t necessarily the target (nor asking) for such adaptation funds.
It is certainly more complex than a few sentences on this page can provide, but the simplification offered by rich country leaders and their media hides this complexity year after year. (See climate justice from this web site for more details on this.)
Trillions for Wall Street, Pennies for Earth
Perhaps a indictment of humanity (or at least its leaders) was the contrast in how we can deal with a global financial crisis and a global warming crisis: wealthy bankers fail the world and get trillions as a
reward bailout through just a few negotiations.
By contrast, it is mostly the emissions from wealthy countries that fail the world with climate change, yet many manage (for years, not just up to Copenhagen) to put equal blame on China, India and other emerging nations and take decades to come up with very little.
Does tackling climate change have to mean lowering living standards?
Some fear climate change negotiations amount to asking industrialized nations to lower their standard of living. Yet, this need not have to be.
For example, almost two decades ago, J.W. Smith of the Institute for Economic Democracy calculated that half the American economy alone was wasteful and unnecessary, with the same standard of living achievable with much less wasted effort. Of course, the implications are staggering (mass unemployment for example) as well as interesting (share the remaining productive jobs by reducing the work week), and perhaps idealistic (no country could try this alone in today’s globalized world). But recognizing the problem is an important first step. (See this site’s consumption section for more details.)
Most world governments have barely encouraged their industries to look for affordable alternatives to fossil fuel, yet, already many businesses (especially in America) are already innovating in this area. With enough political will, just fractions of the amount of funding and subsidies given to the fossil fuel industries could be channeled into alternatives yet still be a massive scale of investment. Side Note 1This could also mean less need to spend so much on military and geopolitics to secure resources, and the authoritarian regimes that control such resources — mostly in the Middle East — need less support from Western powers, and their own legitimacy can be naturally questioned, hopefully allowing democratic forces to flourish. Possibly naive and optimistic, but not necessarily impossible. Side Note 2As an additional aside, the fossil fuel industry seems to survive on a non-free market of subsidies and tax breaks etc, creating a false economy of sorts. Addressing that alone could cause enormous change, perhaps allowing environmentally friendlier alternatives an easier foothold and maybe without as massive an initial investment even.
In addition, as the authors of Natural Capitalism wrote over a decade ago, adjusting production processes to factor the entire production-to-use-to-dispose cycle to include recycling or eliminating waste and internalizing all the usually externalized costs could see enormous productivity and economic benefits, while significantly reducing resource usage.
Gross National Product measures typically do not count environmental costs or measure human well-being very well, and when those factors are measured, what may have seemed inefficient in the past is shown to not be so viable.
Volumes could be written on how we could in theory solve this so easily. Reality of course is so much harder in part due to power, greed, politics, etc. Yet, for richer nations afraid of losing out economically to China and India (for that really seems to be the concern), they may already lose out if China’s increasingly heavy investment into alternatives pays off.
It may be quite difficult for leaders of some Western nations to convince their public amidst lots of negative PR that these investments into alternatives could be incredibly beneficial, economically and even politically (see the above side note, for example). Yet, in combination with the global financial crisis and the questioning of the economic ideologies that allowed this to happen, this
perfect storm perhaps also means that these crises are an opportunity; now is the time to try and make meaningful changes and make our systems work with nature rather than constantly fighting it.
Will we ever agree on a common course of action?
Despite all the optimism that these problems can be solved, the concerns have been raised by many for decades.
Ultimately, it seems, we are showing our future generations that once again power, greed, selfishness and other negative qualities of human nature can easily usurp any positive traits such as cooperation.
For climate negotiations, many now hope the follow-up meeting in Mexico in 2010 will be the place where concrete agreements are made. Many scientists say greenhouse emissions need to peak sooner rather than later, so each year seems like wasted time.
Some useful links for further details and insights:
- Climate Change coverage from Inter Press Service (IPS). (This web site carries an IPS feed.)
- UNFCCC’s COP-16 web site
- Cancún meeting’s official web site
- Third World Network
- Centre for Science and Environment and their COP-16 section
- The Guardian’s environment section
- Climate Justice and Equity from this web site looks at the issue of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities as well as providing graphs and charts on what fairer emission allocations might look like.
- Climate Change Links for more Information from this web site
- Climate Change and Global Warming Introduction
- UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Reactions to Climate Change Negotiations and Action
- Action on climate change is cheaper than inaction
- Global Warming, Spin and Media
- Climate Justice and Equity
- Climate Change Flexibility Mechanisms
- Carbon Sinks, Forests and Climate Change
- Climate Change Affects Biodiversity
- Global Warming and Population
Back to top