Sunday, December 12, 2010

Deal is reached at Cancún summit

All major economies agree to cut emissions and establish a fund to help nations most vulnerable to climate change

  • Saturday 11 December 2010 15.45 GMT
  • Article history
  • cancun
    Members of Greenpeace make a statement in a giant ring in Cancun Mexico, on December 10. Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

    The UN climate change talks produced a modest deal today that for the first time commits all the major economies to reducing emissions, but not enough to meet their promise of keeping the global temperature rise to 2C.

    The agreement, which took four years to negotiate, should help to prevent deforestation, promote the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries and, by 2020, establish a green fund, potentially worth $100bn (£63bn) a year, to shield the more vulnerable countries from climate change.

    However, governments failed to reach agreement on how far overall global emissions should be cut, and there are many loopholes for countries to avoid making the deep reductions that scientists say are needed.

    Researchers from the Climate Action Tracker said the pledges would set the world on course for 3.2C warming – a catastrophe for many of the poorest countries. But the deal was greeted enthusiastically by Chris Huhne, Britain's energy secretary. "This is way better than what we were expecting only a few weeks ago. This is a significant turning point. It clearly says that there should be reductions from developing countries. It takes us forward to a legally binding overall outcome," he said.

    He added that it would give industry more confidence to invest in low-carbon economies and would encourage Europe to commit to a 30% cut in emissions by 2020.

    By the end of the conclusive round of exchanges, which began at around 7pm local time on Friday night and did not end until after 3am yesterday morning, the only resistance to a deal came from Bolivia, which said UN decisions had been taken without consensus. "This is a hollow and false victory that was imposed without consensus, and its cost will be measured in human lives," the country's ambassador, Pablo Solon, said.

    He was unmoved by the cheering in the plenary hall for the agreement, saying: "They are thinking like politicians. The experts that know about climate change, they know that we are right. This agreement won't stop temperature from rising by 4C and we know that 4C is unsustainable."

    Until the final hours, the deal had seemed elusive, with Japan and then Russia refusing to sign up to a second commitment period to the Kyoto protocol. But Connie Hedegaard, the European Union's climate commissioner, said there was a powerful motivation among countries to avoid a repeat of the much-hyped summit at Copenhagen, which failed to yield an agreement.

    World leaders including Britain's David Cameron, Germany's Angela Merkel and Mexico's Felipe Calderón telephoned the Japanese prime minister to plead for him to change his position. In the end, lawyers found a form of words that allowed Japan to avoid making new pledges until later.

    America, which had also taken a hard line, also ended up with a win. It entered the talks saying it would not endorse nearly completed deals on deforestation or climate finance unless China and India subjected their emissions pledges to an inspection regime.

    Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, said the deal at Cancún had given substance to the notion of an inspections regime, which were raised at Copenhagen. But by his own admission, and that of campaigners, Cancún represented only incremental progress.

    Brazil's environment minister, Izabella Texeira, said she was glad the talks had managed to find a compromise to maintain Kyoto beyond 2012. "We believe the protocol is the essential key to making a meaningful full impact on climate change," she said.

    "Cancun may have saved the [UN]process but it did not yet save the climate," said Greenpeace International Climate Policy Director Wendel Trio.

    "With lives on the line, we must now build on this progress. Long term funding must be secured to help vulnerable countries protect themselves," said Oxfam director Jeremy Hobbs.

    Friends of the Earth International called the agreement a slap in the face, and warned that it could still lead to a temperature rise of 5C. "In the end, all of us will be affected by the lack of ambition and political will of a small group of countries. The US, with Russia and Japan, are to blame for the lack of desperately needed greater ambition," said Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth's international director.

    But Stern and Hedegaard pushed back against the idea that the countries had led political expediency trump scientific necessity.

    "If you look at at what we have to do in the next year you can see ithat there is a very heavy work programme but it is definitely not as if we only agreed on process and then left the substance for Durban. There are lots of substantial issues that have been solved here," she said.

    Other measures agreed in outline included the setting up next year of a major climate fund panel to administer and deliver the billions needed for the developing world to adapt to climate change. In a concession to developing countries, this will be largely run by developing countries and not the World Bank.


    ■ All countries to cut emissions

    ■ Forest deal to provide finance for countries who avoid emissions from deforestation

    ■ Finance deal to potentially provide $30bn for developing countries to adapt to climate change now, and up to $100bn later.

    ■ A new UN climate fund to be run largely by developing countries

    ■ Easier transfer of low carbon technology and expertise to poor countries

    ■ China, the US and all major emitters to have actions inspected

    ■ Scientific review of progress after five years

Climate change: human numbers don't add up

The best way to cut emissions is to have fewer babies – but you won't find it in the Cancún bulletin, or any politician's vision

  • Peter Preston
  • Save the planet? Somehow it seems so last year. Cancún – a climate change summit of modest achievement – rates 81 sparse lines of coverage in the Sunday Times, while Chris Huhne's apparent decision not to move in with his mistress rates 118. The BBC, having overspent on Chile's miners, duly hacked back on coverage of Mexico's major meeting. I didn't see one global warming placard in Parliament Square the other day. Protesting youth has other things on its mind.

    You can explain the fading of interest – and fear – in many ways, of course. Too much snow in November. Too many lectures from the pope. Too much concentration on the here and now of pinched pocketbook politics. Too many XYZ factors. But David Cameron, ostensibly the greenest PM of them all, hasn't exactly been planting rainforests since he moved into Downing Street: and Ed Miliband, who knows the issues inside out, has simply left them out of his initial equation. Maybe Cancún, in its general agreement at least, is good rather than bad news: but it isn't big news for Britain 2011. And the worst news of all is how little the ecological agenda impinges on real debate.

    Take the great child benefit row, and look at what wasn't said around its edges. In a rational world – of the kind passionately championed by Jonathon Porritt and his Forum for the Future – no system would pay you more government money to have more children. Child benefit is the absolute logical opposite of what's needed. Do we want a UK population spurting to 77 million before we're halfway through this century? Do we want Britain to add an extra 1,000 a day? It isn't immigration that's principally fuelling such figures any longer: it's "natural change" (aka known as births against deaths). Yet the furore that greets any shrinkage in benefit range or cash signally fails to register population impact. It's as though the issue doesn't exist.

    But it does, of course. It exists in the antechambers of Cancún, where delegates (yet again) base their climate change forecasts on estimates of world population that are frail beyond imagining, because underpinned by no policies that address them. Look at Pakistan, up to 171 million now, and still growing fast; look at Bangladesh, with 164 million mouths to feed somehow, or Nigeria with 156 million. Look at India, at nearly 1.2 billion, hard on China's heels.

    And look at China itself, consider those 1.3 billion Chinese. Will the world in 2051 have grown from 6.8 billion to the 9-10 billion range of current cautious expectation? Even those figures cast a giant shadow over food supplies, sustainability and the rest. "A perfect storm" of crises by 2030, according to HMG's chief scientific adviser. Yet nothing is done, nothing ensues.

    China's "one child" policy – which may have stopped 250-400 million births, on official calculations – is not a polite subject for discussion anywhere in the west. Indeed, it's often lumped into Beijing's long list of human rights abuses. David and Sam, Ed and Justine, have their "happy events". Some year soon, perhaps, William and Kate will join in. But set all that alongside some LSE research last year for the Optimum Population Trust. It costs £5 on family planning to abate a tonne of CO2 – against £15 for wind power and £31 for solar power. In short, too many happy events equal global misery. It's the harsh truth where Cancún communiques fall silent.

    And the difficulty in even writing in such terms is clear once you start. Think Jonathan Swift and his A Modest Proposal (roasting plump Irish babies for the gentry). Would Dave, Nick or Ed ever dare to sign pledges on fewer babies? Electoral suicide. See the red faces as Howard Flight (and his crass characterisation of child benefits as a "breeding" incentive for the lower classes) was ushered into oblivion. Would any politician – in the steps of Swift – dare to go further and say that an NHS policy targeted on longer life, and thus on a swelling generation of very old dependents, didn't make huge economic sense either. We need more young to look after the old: but if we don't need 77 million, we also need less of everything.

    See? There are some areas where democracy can't tread, some subjects too vexed for manifesto treatment. So we're left with very modest proposals indeed; with Cancún, small headlines and small reasons to be cheerful. Last year saving the planet was a challenge that couldn't be shirked. This year you can just reach for the remote.

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