Monday, December 13, 2010

The Party is Over

Cancun-messy (a play on the name of the Cancunmesse conference center where the official side events where held), and Climate chaos were some of the colorful phrases used to describe the COP 16. The talks have ended, delegates and dignitaries have returned to their homelands, Canún left messy, what is there to show for it?

At the end of the opening statement for the COP16, IPCC chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri hoped, " We hope Cancun signifies a major step in action to deal with the challenge of climate change. The available scientific knowledge in this field justifies it and the global community rightly expects it."

What do we have to walk away with from this?

The UN aimed low and got what it wanted, a non-binding, non-specific, "Cancun Agreement". The UN process is admittedly slow and not designed for sweeping changes, and because of this, several are heralding the Agreement as a success and proof that multilateralism is still relevant. The Agreement touches on a few aspects of climate change mitigation, but looks away from any real language of how these would work:
Green Climate Fund - a mechanism of transferring money from rich nations to developing ones. This would be to finance alternative energy, or other clean development mechanisms (as in the Kyoto Protocol)
REDD+ a UN program designed to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation by reducing the rate of deforestation. Industries or countries would use REDD+ payments as offsets to allow them to continue to emit greenhouse gases with the knowledge that forests elsewhere would suck up that carbon. HIGHLY contentious.
Science-based Emission Cuts - this is the big one. All countries acknowledged the need for science based targets, however the emissions reductions as determined by scientists would require that the world reduce emissions up to 40% by 2020 in order to prevent mean global temperature rise over 2 degrees celsius.

That's the rub. Kyoto, the world's first platform for making reductions in greenhouse gases, was ratified in 1997 and since then - 13 years later - we still don't have a multilateral agreement for making real reductions in GHG emissions. With Cancún touted as a "success", without any tangible outcome, it is merely a "stepping stone", putting off action until maybe 2013 in Durban, South Africa (where COP 17 will be). If essentially nothing has been done over the past 13 years, how can we expect to make science-based reductions in 10? Especially if, according to the IPCC, emissions should be peaking by 2015.

Cancún, was a success - according to its own measures, but at the cost taking action. Though the Cancún Agreement was ratified by consensus (in contrast to Copenhagen's political elitism), Bolivia claimed that the Agreement would allow global temperatures to rise 4 degrees celsius (this increase in global temperature would result in 40 - 70% species extinction), and showed the UN's preference for commercial solutions over humanitarian focused listening and action. Large corporate players including Walmart and the World Bank, were invited to high-level talks and played integral roles in developing markets not only for carbon, but also biodiversity. Contrast this to the systematic silencing of youth and indigenous groups by the UN as well as federal police. Indigenous delegates were denied previously-granted access to negotiation spaces and youth activists were evicted from the regal Moon Palace - home of the negotiation space.

These two important, yet systematically marginalized groups need to be given more clout and a stronger voice in future negotiations if we're to pave the way for a truly sustainable society. \

Beyond social equity issues, two major questions are left from Cancún: 1) Where will the promised $100 Billion come from for the Climate Green Fund? and 2) What will be the real emission reduction targets and strategies?
These issues will hopefully be addressed at COP-17 in Durban, South Africa.

With that, I'd like to close this chapter of climate investigation with two quotes from the IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report,

"Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt. Reliance on adaptation alone could eventually lead to a mag- nitude of climate change to which effective adaptation is not pos- sible, or will only be available at very high social, environmental and economic costs."

and more important to keep in mind come elections, local energy and ag decisions, or global catastrophes from resource mining and energy procurement,

" Delayed emission reductions significantly constrain the opportunities to achieve lower stabilisation levels and increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts."

Chilling. Inspiring.

Thank you once again to Cornell for being concerned with climate change and wanting to be part of the solution, as well as giving so many students the opportunity to take part and experience this.

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