Climate Talks End With Modest Deal and Standing Ovation

"Cancún has done its job," UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said of the 41-page deal. "The beacon of hope has been reignited."

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CANCUN, MEXICO — Difficult talks in Cancun ended on Saturday morning with a highly praised “balanced” framework for a future climate pact, exceeding the low expectations established for the outcome and paving the way for a legal deal next year.

“Cancún has done its job,” said UN climate chief Christiana Figueres. “The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored.”

The 41-page deal, known as the “Cancun Agreements,” achieves success in some important areas — establishing, among other things, a “Green Climate Fund” to help mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for poor nations, preserving rainforests and adopting monitoring and verification measures of emerging economies’ carbon curbs.

But it pushes off some core issues until next year’s summit in South Africa. Most worryingly for some is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. The delay keeps alive a long-running rich-poor feud.

American officials were optimistic. “What we have now is a text, while not perfect, is certainly a basis for moving forward,” said Todd Stern, the U.S. climate envoy. “It is very good from our point of view,” he told reporters.

China echoed the sentiment. “Parties have demonstrated political will to bring the meeting to a success,” said Xie Zhenhua, the nation’s top climate envoy.

“The negotiation task is not completely fulfilled. We have to continue in the future. And the negotiations will continue to be difficult,” he added.

A new legally binding pact to fight warming was never within reach of the marathon talks, which began on Nov. 29

New Era in Climate Talks

“We have proven that multilateralism can produce results,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner. “It was 193 countries wanting to move forward.”

After working through the night on Thursday, negotiators brokered the compromise deal late Friday evening. It was adopted in the full plenary session just after 3:30 AM on Saturday.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, the president of the Cancun talks, was given a standing ovation as she formally presented the text to the negotiations with tears in her eyes. Delegates sung her praises for shepherding a transparent process.

For many of them, Cancun marked a dramatic turnaround from Copenhagen’s backdoor dealmaking.

“This is the best product of a truly collective exercise,” said Espinosa.

Greg Combet, Australia’s climate change minister, called the text an “historic significant step forward” and “a win for multilateralism at a time when it is important for the world.”

Bolivia Stands Alone

Bolivia, which blocked last year’s Copenhagen Accord with a handful of other countries, stood alone in Cancun in its efforts to kill the agreement. 

Pablo Solon, UN ambassador for Bolivia, said the failure to guarantee Kyoto’s future, combined with the low-ambition in rich countries’ carbon goals, amounts to an “ecocide” that “will put more human lives in a situation close to death.”

Bolivia officially opposed the Cancun deal. “There is no consensus for its approval,” Solon said in the moments leading up to its adoption.

The decision went ahead.

“The rule of consensus does not mean unanimity,” Espinosa said in the early hours of Saturday morning. It also does not allow “one delegation to impose a right of veto on the will of so much effort that has been fashioned and achieved … with huge sacrifices in so many cases.”

The Deal

The Cancun Agreements set a target to cut global emissions in half by 2050 and restrict the global temperature target to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, with the option of increasing it to 1.5 degrees.  It also acknowledges the need for “identifying a time for global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions.”

For the first time, the text “anchors” carbon-reduction pledges made by rich countries and emerging economies, covering more than 80 percent of global emissions. It urges a collective cut  for the wealthiest of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, the minimum set by UN scientists to avert climate danger.

The EU fought — and won — language that urges rich nations to lift their ambition in accordance with the science.

Current carbon offers add up to a 13 to 19 percent cutback. A report released by the UN Environment Program found that at that level of reduction temperatures could rise 2.5 to 5 degrees by 2100.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chair of the Africa group of nations, said on Friday that science has been lost to politics.

“It is appearing more and more everyday that this has become a pledging club,” said Mpanu-Mpanu.  Countries are no longer basing  goals on “what science requires,” he said, and that “doesn’t keep Africa safe.”

Throughout the talks, the Africa group pleaded to wealthy states to ensure the survival of the Kyoto Protocol.

Japan and Russia said they would oppose extension after its first commitment period ends in 2012. Both favor a single legally binding deal that covers all major emitters.

The Cancun Agreements leave the Kyoto question wide open, stating only that a new agreement should “ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods.”

When asked if the text effectively kills Kyoto, Stern said he is “not going to speculate” on the matter. “There’s a lot of very intense feeling on this on both sides,” he said.

Building Blocks

Some key building blocks of the climate pact saw subtle but significant changes in Cancun.

In the scheme to slow deforestation in poor countries in return for cash, known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, language to safeguard indigenous peoples’ rights was strengthened, advocates said.

“After three years of hard negotiations we have a basis for combating deforestation integrated in an agreement on climate which marks an important step,” said Rosalind Reeve, forest campaign manager for Global Witness, a London-based nonprofit.

Meanwhile, countries delayed a decision on closing the so-called “logging loophole.” The incentive under the Kyoto Protocol would result in emissions of an extra half a billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.

On technology transfer, a way to help poor states “leapfrog” over coal and into the clean energy economy, negotiators stripped all mention of “intellectual property rights,” disappointing developing nations who want access to greentech patents held by the rich.

Overall, green groups were pleased.

“These are some of the substantial steps that we need to move forward with the negotiations to get a legally binding deal in Durbin,” Wendel Trio from Greenpeace International told SolveClimate News.  

Jennifer Morgan, director of climate and energy for the World Resources Institute, said: “This agreement was a remarkable turnaround for a multilateral approach to address climate change, including commitments on emissions from all the world’s major economies.”

“By consensus, countries agreed to a ‘balanced package’ that includes targets and actions, increased transparency, the creation of a climate fund, and other important mechanisms to support developing countries.”

Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “The outcome in Cancún wasn’t enough to save the climate, but it did restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made.”

See Also

Technology Transfer Deal Likely in Cancun, but Nitty Gritty Missing

Is China on a Path to Redemption in Cancún?

Modest Climate Deal within Reach in Upbeat Cancún Talks

Ideological Foes Assail UN Forest Scheme from Two Sides

Japan’s Motion to Kill Kyoto Protocol a ‘Slap in the Face,’ Advocates Say