Cancun: Victory for diplomacy, defeat for climate

It was an admirable coup for political will in reaching a deal, but a failure where it really mattered – controlling carbon emissions. I confess that I was one of those breathing a sigh of relief when the ‘Cancun agreements’ were unveiled. The build-up to Cancun, while lukewarm as compared to Copenhagen, ignited nonetheless desire for results. Euphoria at having reached a deal swept over many Cancun watchers, myself included. How do the Cancun agreements look now in the sober light of day?

The Bolivian ambassador accused the plenary at Cancun of ‘thinking like politicians’ rather than confronting the harsh scientific realities of climate change. Treated as the spoiler in the negotiations, Bolivia was right. Namely, that the non-binding national pledges to cut emissions are unlikely to prevent global temperatures from rising to a forecast 3.2 degrees or to an even more catastrophic 4 degrees. Cancun may very well be a self-congratulatory love-in as we set our sails for devastation. But really, what are the options?

In the current context of consensus-based UN processes, what transpired at Cancun was an admirable success. Is it good enough? Far from it. What we can draw from this then, is that the UNFCCC processes as currently designed will not get us where we need to go. It does not appear to be the right vehicle, hobbled as it is by consensual processes. It is the classic dilemma with democracies. The uncomfortable short-term sacrifices for the long-term good rarely garner public support.

Mexico’s Patricia Espinosa, president of the conference, was widely applauded by the global community for strong-arming the agreement through. Maybe an Espinosa-inspired climate regime is what is really required. One which does not allow devotion to process, and subservience to narrow national interests, to eclipse the dire necessity of certain outcomes.

Posted by Regan Suzuki

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