Cancun Shows It Can Be Done

Cancun Shows It Can Be Done

World leaders finally made a breakthrough on climate change when they approved a fresh text called the Cancun Agreements that marked a historic point for international co-operation. The United Nations climate conference was awash with optimism after conference president Patricia Espinosa – who won praise for her firm but diplomatic handling of the show – banged down the gavel to approve the landmark text.

By Jessica Cheam in Straits Times and (11 December 2010)

World leaders finally made a breakthrough on climate change on Saturday when they approved a fresh text called the Cancun Agreements that marked a historic point for international cooperation.

The United Nations climate conference was awash with optimism after United Nations Cancun conference president Patricia Espinosa banged down the gavel to approve the landmark text – despite several repeated objections by Bolivia’s negotiators.

The approval came in the wee hours of Saturday morning after a back-and-forth discussion between Mrs Espinosa and Bolivia’s negotiator Pablo Solon, who insisted that the deal was a “step backward, not forward”.

But Mrs Espinosa said she was not going to allow one party to veto the wishes of 193 other nations, which had worked very hard to put that text together.

Many negotiators had worked around the clock the past few days to produce a text that would advance the talks, which had been dogged many years by petty politics and disagreement over several issues.

She was moved to tears when she received thunderous applause and standing ovations through the final hours of the conference, with many leaders praising her vision and determination for brokering the climate deal.

India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh calld her a “goddess” who, through the talks, had “restored the confidence of the world community in multilateralism and in the multilateral process”.

Fresh hopes have now been injected into the global climate treaty process, which suffered a serious loss of confidence after last year’s climate talks ended in disarray in Copenhagen.

Mexican president Felipe Calderón, addressing the conference in the final speech, said that the Cancun Agreements had started a “long but renewed course” for international work on climate change.

Although leaders acknowledged that the texts were not perfect and needed to be worked on, almost all said it was a “very balanced package” that reflected the “spirit of compromise” between parties.

This included the establishment of a US$100 billion annual green fund by 2020 for developing countries vulnerable to climate change, potentially to be managed by the World Bank. The texts also set out guidelines on technology transfer from developed to developing nations, and a fund for forestry protection known as REDD.

The new deal, which was first presented to delegates by the UN climate conference president Patricia Espinosa mid-day on Friday, was supported by key players including the United States, China, Japan, the European Union, the entire Africa bloc, and Singapore.

It did not have specific binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but recognized that nations needed to reduce emissions so as to arrest the increase in global average temperature two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Earlier during the two-week summit, many leaders including Singapore Senior Minister S Jayakumar warned that failure to reach consensus could lead to a breakdown in confidence of the UN-led multilateral process which had gone on for 16 years.

Chief US negotiator Todd Stern said the deal “while not perfect, is certainly a good basis for moving forward,”, reflecting the hope that what was achieved in Cancun would now mark a new dawn towards “a low-emissions and sustainable future.”

The latest texts also received widespread support from observers such as NGO Greenpeace International. Its climate policy director Wendel Trio said of the updated text: “This is getting closer to what the science demands.”

However, others such as humanitarian NGO CARE’s climate change coordinator Poul Erik Lauridsen cautioned that although progress has been made, “we should be cautious because the difficult questions of mitigation and finance remain unresolved”.

Still, there was no dampening of high spirits at the conference even as it went on through the entire night into Saturday morning.

Mr Ramesh declared to the conference: “Tonight, God has been very close to Mexico.”


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