Saturday, December 18, 2010

COP 16 Cancun swerve

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

The 2010 United Nations climate change summit, also known as the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (in the acronym-happy UN, that's COP-16 UNFCCC), took place about 800 klicks or 500 miles from Tampa across the Gulf of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula in Cancun Nov 29 to Dec 10. The results are mixed and can be spun in different ways. Cancun "ends with a modest deal on emissions," says the New York Times; it led to a "compromise," writes Der Spiegel; it amounts to a "surprising success," notes The Economist. Nouvel Observateur captures the ambiguity nicely: Cancun boils down to "timid advances," but then again, especially after Copenhagen, it was really a "giant breath of fresh air" (un immense bol d'air).

The result is the "outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term cooperative action under the Convention": the Cancun Agreement. There is a refreshing rationality to the document. To wit: Climate change "represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies" (preamble);
"adverse effects of climate change have a range of ... implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights" (preamble);
"climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time" (#1);
"scaled-up overall mitigation efforts ... are necessary" (#2a);
"adaptation must be addressed with the same priority as mitigation" (#2b);
"capacity-building is essential" (#2e);
"warming of the climate system is unequivocal" (#3);
"deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required" (#4);
we must "hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 C above pre-industrial levels" (#4);
and lastly, "addressing climate change requires a paradigm shift towards buliding a low-carbon society" (#10).

The Cancun Agreement codifies the cognitive consensus shared by the peoples of the world except the majority of US Americans. While the consensus is nothing new, the Agreement is the first global treaty to decree a temp rise of +2 C as safe upper limit.

There's also a practical result. The Conference of the Parties (#100) has decided "that a significant share of the new multilateral funding for adaptation should flow through the Green Climate Fund," which is to say that a pot of money is to be set aside (they're saying $ 100 billion) to help developing nations with mitigation and adapation.

And yes, this is good. Especially when you put it in context. Compared to other climate summits, COP-16 was a step forward. Think of how the discussion started and where it is now.

COP-1 Berlin 1995, UN: "Um, you know, this climate thing really sucks, and it's kinda scary, and we should do something about it."

COP-3 Kyoto 1997, UN: "Alrighty, so us rich folks agree to ease off the throttle a bit, and yes, we know that the reduction targets are too wimpy to make a difference, and yes, we also know that the Americans screwed it up, by bullying everyone else to agree on wimpy targets only, but, hey, at least we've got something here."

COP-6 The Hague 2000, USA: "Sorry world, we read Ayn Rand and the Bible, and so we don't give a hoot about saving the planet. But if you bleeding-heart foreign liberals want to be goody-two-shoes, we won't stop you. Now excuse us, we've got some invading to do."

COP-13 Bali 2007, where the representative from Papua New Guinea spoke for everyone (and this is a real quote): "There's an old saying if you're not going to lead you should get out of the way, and so I say to the United States: we ask for your leadership but if you are not going to lead, leave it to us. Get out of the way."

COP-14 Poznan 2008, where UN Secretary-General Ban said (another real quote), "What we need today is leadership: leadership by you. We look for that leadership from the European Union."

COP-15 Copenhagen 2009, ending in a sorry cacophony of voices:

EU: well then, leadership it is, so lets get down to brass-tacks, lads and ladies, and let's cut emissions by a third for starters." --

US: "But ... cutting emissions ain't good for Detroit motors! And us Democrats are afraid of them Republicans! And they think climate change ain't real! We can't tick them off! Cutting emissions? Do you realize how many problems we have now because of eight years of Bush? We need another challenge like we need a hole in the head! The two wars basically bankrupted us. We don't have any extra money, not to mention wiggle-room. We're glad if we can hold on to the status quo. Cutting emissions? Plus our people are really confused whether this climate thing is actually for real and are definitely not happy to make any sacrifices for the greater good just because a bunch of nerdy scientists tell them so." --

China: "Cutting down emissions? Now? When we just got started with our industrial revolution? Don't you remember that industrial revolutions are dirty? What do you want us to do? Remain an agrarian society and forgo large-scale industrialization? So basically the EU wants us to take one for the team? Screw this! We're mainlanders, we're next in line, and now it's our turn!"

Developing World: "Well, this sucks, because without emission cuts we'll go down, but China has a point: why take one for the team? Especially when the team is the rich folks up North who screwed up the climate in the first place? Why should we poor folks down South foot the bill? Something's not fair here. We gotta talk about it."

And at COP-16 Cancun 2010 they did. Hence the Green Climate Fund. Now the playing field levels a bit.

Seventy-two months left.

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