Cancun: steps towards a global climate agreement

Campaigning for change, Food & climate change article written on the 13 Dec 2010

As is being reported around the world, the UN climate summit ended in Cancun over the weekend with some positive progress. Over the next few days Oxfam’s climate policy team and our UN Climate Tracker Phil will deliver more comprehensive analysis of what the agreement means for further international climate negotiations, as well as domestic policy here in Australia. In the meantime, here’s a quick overview of the outcome from Cancun:

In the early hours of Sunday morning two ‘texts’ (drafts of potential agreements) were published at the conference centre by Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s foreign minister and the president of the COP16 summit. She then gave country delegations two hours to review the drafts and requested that negotiators reconvene later in the evening.

It was at this stage that things started to look positive, with Espinosa’s address receiving rapturous applause from the plenary floor. And so, after a couple of hours of deliberation between government delegations, a final decision was made and the Cancun text was agreed.

Here are the headlines of what it contains – good and bad:

A global ‘Green Climate Fund’ has been established. This is a strong step towards ensuring developing countries are provided with desperately-needed assistance in fighting the effects of climate change. As UN Climate Tracker Phil wrote on ABC’s The Drum progress on climate finance was central to a positive outcome in Cancun. In the coming months, it will be crucial that decisions are made on where money will be raised from to fill the Fund (and I would think it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a snappier name!)

On the other hand, one major disappointment was that an earlier draft of the text, which was seen by Oxfam a few days ago, had stated that women’s needs must be addressed. In the agreement that was made last night, this was subsequently changed and the reference was removed. With women in poor communities more likely to be at risk from the impacts of climate change, work is needed here to make sure this is put back in.

Next, there was development on the Kyoto Protocol. As reported from Oxfam’s team on the ground in Cancun, Japan’s wavering on Kyoto – the existing international climate agreement, which needs to be renewed next year – had been undermining progress in Cancun. But in the final hours of negotiations, after a tide of public pressure was applied on the Japanese government, Japan decided not to block a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, which in turn keeps the prospect of a new round of emissions cuts alive (hurrah!).

Although the Cancun text still falls short of meeting emissions cuts demanded by the science, it does prevent backsliding on the targets currently on the table, and lays out a path to move toward them. Crucially, this takes us a step closer to the global deal that eluded last year’s summit in Copenhagen.

Confidence has been restored in the multilateral system, and the UN system in particular, which is much needed. Countries have demonstrated that they are able, and willing, to work together in good faith, to seek agreement and compromise. While this may seem a small success, climate change is a global problem and it needs a global agreement.

Lastly, the Cancun outcome highlights the need for us to get cracking in Australia by putting a price on pollution and growing jobs in a cleaner economy. Environment groups across Australia have called for the Australian government to follow up the progress made in Cancun with action at home.

In the coming days, Oxfam’s policy team will continue to crunch through the detail of the text. They’ll be unpicking the meaning and deciding where to go next. Stay tuned for more about that. But in the mean time, one thing is clear. Progress wouldn’t have happened in Cancun without the pressure exerted by campaigners throughout 2010. And while there was so much more that could have been accomplished, the building blocks have been laid – and your voices have been heard.