Cancún: a step forward to Durban?

2nd February 2011


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A new legally binding global treaty to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions must wait until at least this year's UN climate talks in South Africa after the COP16 summit in Cancún, Mexico, did not produce a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Negotiators in Cancún did adopt a number of measures, however, which lay the foundations for a new global deal to be agreed in Durban in December, with possibly the extension of the protocol beyond 2012, when the fi rst commitment period ends.

Given that expectations were low going into COP16 following the disappointment at Copenhagen in 2009, the outcomes – the so-called Cancún Agreements (see panel) – have been seen by some as a significant step forward.

“Cancún has done its job. The beacon of hope has been re-ignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored,” declared UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres.

The energy and climate-change secretary, Chris Huhne, described the agreements as a turning point in international climate negotiations. “A global deal on climate change is now back on track,” he claimed.

The European Commission heralded the “balanced and substantive package of decisions”, which it said represented an important further step on the road to building a comprehensive and legally binding framework for climate action for the period after 2012.

The outcome keeps alive the possibility of a deal being achieved that would see the protocol continue post-2012, while a new overarching agreement that covers both the developed and developing countries is negotiated – the so-called “two-tracks” approach.

“The package deal is one major step towards a new climate treaty. We managed to keep the balance between the two tracks. I am optimistic that we will be able to reach an agreement in Durban,” commented Karl-Heinz Florenz, vice-chair of the European Parliament delegation in Cancún.

Despite the positive views expressed by policymakers, others were less enthusiastic about the agreement.

IEMA’s executive director of policy, Martin Baxter, said: “Cancún didn’t address the key issue of how to bridge the huge gap between keeping warming to 2°C and the emissions-reduction pledges currently on the table. There still isn’t suffi cient commitment from countries to see us on a path to keep global temperature rise to safe manageable levels.”

Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF, echoed this. “Much more is needed to reach the shared goal of limiting temperature increase to 2°C.

Over the next year, countries need to roll up their sleeves and be prepared to work hard and creatively to close this gap,” he said.


The Cancún Agreements at a glance

  • Acknowledgment – for the first time in an offi cial UN document – that global warming must be kept below 2°C.

  • Countries’ emissions reduction pledges – previously noted in the Copenhagen Accord – officially incorporated into the UNFCCC process.

  • Developed countries to report their inventories annually, and developing countries to publish progress reports every two years.

  • Inspection to verify emissions reductions agreed in principle.

  • Annex I parties (industralised countries) to the protocol need to reduce GHG emissions between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

  • “REDD+” (reduction of deforestation and degradation) mechanism established.

  • An adaptation framework created.

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