I haven’t written in a while because I have been at the United Nations climate conference — the COP16 — in Cancun. The conference closed last night with a modest deal reached. Although many are viewing the fact that a deal was reached as a success, it appears  at first glance that the terms of the deal are so scaled back that it can hardly be considered a successor to the much more ambitious Kyoto Protocol which will expire in 2012.

Parties overcame resistance from the Bolivian delegation on Friday night and a deal was announced yesterday morning. The “Cancun Agreements” are not legally binding and do not include emission reduction targets for any country. This is a scaling down from the Kyoto Protocol which included targets for developed countries and it is much less ambitious than the deal many observers hoped for over a year ago in the lead up to the widely publicized Copenhagen talks. Bolivian delegates pointed out that the Cancun Agreements allow for a 4 degree Celsius rise, enough to destroy croplands, displace billions of people as land becomes submerged resulting in food insecurity and massive influxes of refuges.

In lieu of outlining binding targets for reductions, the Cancun Agreements deal with technical issues such as a $100 billion fund to help developing countries mitigate the effects of climate change (although its still not clear where the money is coming from), technology transfer and how to measure, report and verify reductions.

By producing an agreement, many journalists noted, the climate talks process under the UNFCCC, which lost credibility after the failure to do anything in Copenhagen, was restored.

There were many discussions about alternative venues for the global talks. Some promoted sub-national agreements as a more realistic format. Others said the climate issue should be thrown to the G20. Still others said the UN was the only forum that should deal with the climate issue because of its unique democratic and transparent quality.

The climate issue is very tricky — the atmosphere is like a stew, ignoring the invisible national boundaries that are so important in issues like trade, human rights and economic development. The problem is caused by economic activity taking places in almost infinite locations around the world and all people will suffer the consequences. Yet, as many have pointed out, the people who are most responsible for climate change are least vulnerable to its consequences and the people least responsible are most vulnerable.

Like previous COPs, the main fault line in the Cancun talks was the divide between developed and developing countries with most developing countries calling for the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol which calls for stronger commitments from the developed world while developing countries are not legally bound to reductions AND key developed countries (the US, Japan and Canada) calling for a new agreement that would hold ALL countries responsible.

These issues will be dealt with again at the next round of talks scheduled for next year in Durban, South Africa.

My organization held three events during the summit.

The first is iCET’s Green Car Rating System launch held on Dec. 6th, 2010. The link can be found here.

[COP16, Cancun: China\’s Green Car Rating Launch, Dec. 6, 2010]

On Wednesday Dec. 8th, iCET held a press conference on the Energy and Climate Registry — China’s first voluntary greenhouse gas calculation and reporting platform. Link is here.

[COP16, Cancun, Energy and Climate Registry in China, Dec. 8th 2010]

There was no webcast for our two-hour side event.

I also did an interview on Democracy Now! on Liu Xiaobo and China’s position at the COP16.


Next week I will have an article in The Nation about why the US and China can’t agree on a legally binding deal to reduce carbon emissions.