[A-List] Cancun Climate Summit - What's Really Happening, How You Can Follow It
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Wed Dec 8 10:42:10 MST 2010
Cancun Climate Summit - What's Really Happening, How You Can
* The Skinny on Cancun: What's Happening at the
International Climate Meeting and What's at Stake? (Tina
Gerhardt in AlterNet)
* Bill McKibben and Tina Gerhardt discuss the COP 16 on
* ongoing coverage of Cancun (Alfredo Lopez for May
The Skinny on Cancun: What's Happening at the International
Climate Meeting and What's at Stake?
Why the media's refrain of "low expectations" may be
just a ploy by a small group of industrialized
countries (including the U.S.) to obscure their
obligations to act.
by Tina Gerhardt
December 6, 2010
CancÃºn, Mexico -- Last week, the COP 16 got under way with a
welcoming ceremony hosted by Mexican President Felipe
This year' s climate summit -- the United Nation Framework
Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC -- could not be more
different from last year' s negotiations in Copenhagen.
Unlike Copenhagen, with artic sub-zero temperatures suffered
in few hours of scant of daylight, CancÃºn welcomed attendees
to the summit with plentiful sunshine, clear blues skies and
balmy temperatures in the 70s. Yet it's not only the weather
While last year attendees -- heads of state, negotiators,
journalists, non-governmental organizations and activists --
arrived in droves previously never witnessed for a climate
summit, with 35,000 negotiators, journalists and observers
attending the conference, and up to 100,000 attending the
walk or demonstration, this year, far fewer are attending
the conference this year with Mexican authorities estimating
up to 22,000 people.
Although that might bode well for the collective carbon
footprint, it does not bode well for securing an
international legally binding treaty.
Countries have gathered together to achieve agreement on
three goals: 1. Establish greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions
reductions for developed countries; 2. Secure funding and
technology transfers from developed countries to developing
countries, to help them address and adapt to climate change;
and 3. Decide on a method to monitor, report and verify
(MRV) the agreed upon targets of an international climate
As reported broadly, expectations for an international
legally binding climate treaty coming out of CancÃºn this
year are low. Everyone from UN secretary general Ban Ki-
Moon; to the UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres,
to the EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard
have gone on record saying that they do not expect a binding
treaty to come out of the negotiations.
Yet Bolivian ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, said " The
reality is that the talk of 'low expectations' is a ploy by
a small group of industrialized countries to obscure their
obligations to act."
While often framed as a U.S.-China standoff, at war are two
main factions: those in favor of the Kyoto Protocol and
those in favor of the Copenhagen Accord. These two documents
could not differ more.
The UNFCCC' s two main principles are transparency and
inclusiveness. The Kyoto Protocol, drawn up in 1997, entered
into force into 2005. In form, it is an international
legally binding agreement, negotiated and ratified by all
countries, thereby reflecting the UNFCCC's guiding
principles of transparency and inclusiveness.
The Copenhagen Accord, by contrast, is a backroom deal
brokered between the BASIC countries -- Brazil, South
Africa, India and China -- and the U.S. Thus, it flaunts the
UNFCCC' s principles. And for this reason, it is not an
international legally binding agreement or protocol but just
an "accord" that nations merely "took note of" but did not
ratify or pass.
Just last week, in an interview with the BBC, the UN
Secretariat Christiana Figueres, who took over the helm from
Yvo de Boer in May, reiterated the importance of adhering to
the key UN principles of transparency and inclusiveness, in
order to produce results at CancÃºn.
In content, the Kyoto Protocol put forward commitments for
reducing greenhouse gas (or ghg) emissions, which is
necessary to prevent temperature increases that will have
irreparable consequences. It demanded that developed
countries, such as the U.S. and the EU, which have
historically been the biggest producers of emissions, as a
result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, lead
the way in reductions.
The Copenhagen Accord, however, puts the onus on developing
countries, such as China and India, to establish emissions
The majority of the UNFCCC' s 194 members support the Kyoto
Protocol and their work revolves around two items: getting
the U.S., which is the only country not to have signed on,
to ratify the treaty; and securing an extension of it beyond
2012. This work is carried out by one of the UNFCCC' s two
working groups, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto
While the U.S. is dragging its heels on making a commitment
to Kyoto, the very consequences of climate change are
already being suffered by nations around the world. This
past year has witnessed some of the worst natural disasters,
including the floods in Pakistan and the heat waves in
At the opening ceremony, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the
UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCCC),
warned of the penalties if the world dragged its feet.
The IPCC estimates that yields from rain-fed agriculture
could be cut by up to half between 2000 and 2020, while arid
and semi-arid areas could grow by 60 million to 90 million
Over the past week, numerous scientific reports have been
released by various organizations corroborating Pachauri's
statements and the IPCC's estimates.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), an
intergovernmental organization, 2010 has emerged as the
warmest year on record. Increased temperatures have direct
consequences and set into motion feedback loops,
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released a
statement that current pledges offered are not enough to
keep prevent temperatures below 4 degrees by the end of the
Relatedly, the Royal Society's journal Philosophical
Transactions published papers warning of the dangers of a
world warmed by 4 degree Celsius temperature increase.
One of the papers predicts a rise in sea levels between .5
and 2 meters (1.64 and 6.56 feet) by 2100 if temperatures
rose 4 degrees Celsius. (Rising temperatures lead to rising
sea levels.) The rising sea levels affect people living on
low lying islands in Asia, Africa and river deltas the most.
At a press conference, Dessima Williams, representative of
the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), underscored
that rising sea levels are already impacting many AOSIS
countries. The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees
Celsius temperature increase would determine whether or not
at least five islands would survive.
"They are," AOSIS diplomats said, "facing the end of
history. And if that happens, we are all accomplices."
Other consequences of temperature are increased
desertification, widespread crop failures, flooding and mass
migration of climate refugees.
Oxfam released a report, stating that at least 21,000 people
died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine
months of this year -- more than twice the number for the
whole of 2009.
Tim Gore, Oxfam's EU climate change policy adviser and the
report's author, stated "This year has seen massive
suffering and loss due to extreme weather disasters. This is
likely to get worse as climate change tightens its grip. The
human impacts of climate change in 2010 send a powerful
reminder why progress in CancÃºn is more urgent than ever."
Throughout the week, news of the effects of climate change
continued to rack up, and not only through scientific
reports. The government of Colombia has declared a state of
national emergency this week due to torrential rains that
have led to more than 160 deaths and 1.4 million people
The 2010 hurricane season is blamed for the worst rainy
season in Central America in the last 50 years, with
flooding and mudslides leading to 300 deaths, mainly in
Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Hurricanes also left
thousands of people homeless and caused $ 1 billion in
Venezuela is currently suffering from floods, which have
left 34 dead and 70,000 displaced. The Philippines, in a
plenary this weekend, expressed its solidarity with all
peoples around the world already suffering from climate
change. This month alone, the Philippines has experienced 10
Wiki Leaks' Revelations about the Copenhagen Accord
As the COP 16 commenced, news of the Wiki Leaks dominated
the media. Lisa Friedman in an article up at Climate Wire
and reprinted at the New York Times, argues that the Wiki
Leaks reveals that climate change "appears as a front-burner
Obama administration issue."
In particular, the United States was concerned about climate
change going into and coming out of Copenhagen. Friedman's
research delineates how the United States sought to pressure
Saudi Arabia to sign on to the Copenhagen Accord by January
31, the deadline for countries to state their emissions
reductions pledges voluntarily.
As Friedman lays out, "the United States put climate change
at the center of its foreign policy the relationship with
the oil-producing in the months after last year's blowout UN
climate summit in Denmark." The leaks document that
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Jeffrey Feltman "noted that the United States is counting on
Saudi Arabia to associate itself with the accord by January
This revelation brings to mind how the United States
suspended funding from Ecuador and Bolivia earlier this year
to punish them for the opposition to the Copenhagen Accord
as reported by the Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin on
April 9, 2010. Boliiva and Ecuador did not only not sign on
to the Copenhagen Accord, they stated explicitly their
opposition to it. The price tag for their opposition was
steep. According to Eilperin, "Both nations were in line for
funding under the Obama administration's Global Climate
Change initiative. The State Department's congressional
budget justification for fiscal year 2010 included a request
for $3 million for Bolivia and $2.5 million."
Blocks and Blocs
As the negotiations close at the end of the week, fissures
are emerging along various lines.
Japan made waves this week by reiterating its position that
it was opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. When asked about the
announcement, Christiana Figueres, however, argued that
Japan' s position "has long been known. This is not new
In addition to Japan, Canada and Russia, too, have stated
that the will not renew Kyoto.
Brazil's top climate negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo,
said that the future of the Kyoto Protocol had turned into
the "key issue" at the two-week meeting.
China initially took a position supportive of Kyoto as lead
negotiator Su Wei said, "If any balanced outcome can be
produced in international climate change, there must be a
continuation of KP," in reference to the Kyoto Protocol.
"There must be a second period. Without this element there
will be no balance."
India, meanwhile, seeks to bridge the divide between
developed and developing nations. "India is positioning
itself as a bridge player" between rich and poor nations,
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.
China' s lead climate negotiator revised its position on
Saturday, stating that China is prepared to drop a demand
that developed countries commit to specific levels of
greenhouse gases as mandated by the Kyoto Protocol.
It remains to be seen whether the United States, the sole
nation not to have signed on to Kyoto, will sign on or at
least make stronger commitments to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions. A simple gesture of good faith on its part would
go a long way to dispel the fears of the G77, LDCs and
AOSIS, which are already suffering the dire consequences of
If the U.S. does so, and if China, India and other
developing nations agree to sign on with emissions
reductions, negotiations in CancÃºn could move forward.
It remains to be seen whether or not such headway will be
made in the days to come. Negotiations resume on Tuesday.
[Tina Gerhardt is a freelance journalist and academic who
has contributed to In These Times, the San Francisco
Chronicle, TheNation.com and Salon.]
* Bill McKibben and Tina Gerhardt discuss the COP 16 on
Today, Bill McKibben and I were on Laura Flanders's GritTV,
discussing our experiences at the COP 16 in CancÃºn and
The show airs nationally tomorrow: http://www.grittv.org/
Correspondent, Alternet and The Nation
* ongoing coverage of Cancun
We are streaming coverage of the alternative events and protests in Cancun.
May First/People Link
Growing Networks to Build a Just World
The Praxis Project
alopez at thepraxisproject.org
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