Can Cancun deliver?

Are Chris Huhne's bold claims about the outcome of Cancun justified, or will history, in the words of the Bolivian ambassador to the UN, judge it harshly.

Climate secretary Chris Huhne was very modest about the success of the Cancun climate change conference, although he bizarrely and, above all, mistakenly, claimed that there is now “an international commitment to hold the increase in global average temperature below two degrees Celsius”. This year’s global climate change gathering was by no means a headline-grabbing event comparable to that of the Copenhagen Summit just a year ago.

Simply put, public expectations were considerably lower due to the absence of media interest and speculation. Yet this ironically did not help to markedly improve the international commitment in preventing global temperatures to reach levels above the 2° C mark – typically considered as “safe” warming. Instead, independent analysis suggests the insufficient pledges made at Cancun will actually lead to a 3.2° C rise in temperatures.

Such an increase would have disastrous effects across the globe in the form of droughts, floods and food poverty, especially in states that are currently termed as third-world countries – a term found wanting in describing the future human suffering if nothing is done soon.

What is even more worrying is how the international community refused to incorporate agreed climate change measures into law. Since they are not legally required to fulfill their Cancun pledges, there is no inbuilt penal system. Without penalties, there is little motivation. Without motivation, a 3.2° C rise in temperatures seems at first glance very optimistic.

At second glance, however, there is hope, because what Cancun did succeed in doing was to partly bridge the gap between developed and developing states.

For example, by agreeing on rich countries paying poor countries in compensation for not chopping down huge swaths of forests, states such as Indonesia (3rd worst polluter in the world) are likely to reduce their carbon emissions by an unprecedented level. In addition, a newly appointed committee will seek to ensure that knowledge of green technology will undergo a transfer within a set-up network in order to assist disadvantaged countries.

Nonetheless, Huhne’s claim of him having achieved a “triumph for the spirit of international cooperation in tackling an international threat” is absurd.

Apart from rich countries repeating their non-binding arbitrary aspiration of raising $100 billion in climate aid by 2020, attendants showed great reluctance on agreeing upon any exact financial numbers, what contributions will be made by individual states, how emissions cuts will be inspected and verified, and what will replace the Kyoto Protocol, without which we will inevitably be heading for a climate catastrophe.

Yet most crucial of all, our governments in the west have once again shirked their climate responsibilities by refusing to make any of their Cancun cuts legally binding. In the words of Pablo Solon, the ambassador of Bolivia – a country that is suffering under severe drought and whose people are starving – to the UN:

“History will judge harshly.”

Perhaps so, but if the international community do not get their act together at next year’s climate conference in South Africa and agree on substantive and binding agreements, it will be our children’s children who will judge harshest of all.

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