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Cancun Conference reaches unexpected agreement

During the weeks previous to the Cancun Conference on Climate Change, commentators were far from hopeful about the outcome. But it should be recognised that the agreement reached late on the night of 10th December by the representatives of the 193 Parties to the Conference is a pleasing surprise, a breath of fresh air in the midst of the previous pessimism about debates on climate change.

The first result, by no means minor, is the reversion of negotiations to the a multilateral track.  Since 1992 the Convention on Climate Change had been governed by the rule of consensus. Unfortunately the last Conference in Copenhagen (December, 2009) broke with this way of proceeding. The disastrous management of the Conference, first preparing alternative texts for discussion without a transparent consultation process, and  finally allowing the shameful spectacle of different leaders meeting in improvised accommodation seeking agreement outside any agreed procedural framework, lead to a painful break in the mutual trust that was needed. This time the Mexican presidency played a decisive role for the good. As Convention’s Executive Secretary Christina Figueres said: “Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored, 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”. Only Bolivia refused to sign the agreement, but this refusal was seen by the assembly as an unacceptable veto.

The second result is the Cancun Agreement, which begins with a section entitled “A shared vision for long-term cooperative action”, containing the fundamental; climate change agreement on : the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, now taking account of the respective capabilities and the different circumstances of the Parties. There were also agreed the major pillars for cooperative action: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building. This section recognizes the anthropogenic cause of the observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations as assessed by the IPCC and the need to achieve deep cuts in these gas emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperature below 20 C above pre-industrial levels. There is retained the possibility of revising this target to a global average temperature rise of 1,50 C.

The Agreement establishes an Adaptation Committee to promote the coherent implementation of ‘enhanced action’. Thus the Convention equips itself with technical bodies that will strengthen its future role. On mitigation, the Cancun Agreement recognizes the differentiated responsibilities between developed and developing countries. For the former, the emphasis is laid on ambitious targets, accountability and reporting; for developing countries, mitigation has to be consistent with economic development and poverty eradication. Very important, also, is the agreement to support, financially, the efforts to protect forests in the developing countries, a measure known as the ‘REDD+ Initiative’.

Cancun has established a Green Climate Fund, with a fast start-up finance of USD 30 billion for 2010 and 2012, a figure that should rise to 100 billion by 2020. The Fund will be supervised by a Board of 24 countries elected by criteria including breadth of representation; the Fund will be managed by the World Bank for a period of three years, and then reviewed.

Many things remain, especially if this Agreement is to become binding. The politics of the post-Kyoto period has been brought into when, for example, Japan claims that the major economies, namely USA, China, and India, should also be included among the states obliged to cut emissions, not only those states already included in the Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol. Probably the perspective of one single binding Agreement, though with differentiated commitments, is the fairest solution. Obviously this will require that the possibility of sufficient economic growth for the developing countries as stated in the Cancun Agreement must be guaranteed. In any case the future of the Climate Change Convention should preserve multilateralism as the political framework for discussion, so as to assure the ambition and energy to confront the many planetary threats facing us. Cancun has brought some hope to this continuing process. At this time of widespread economic crisis, hope is much needed.

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