14 December 2010: How good was Cancun?

The Cancun climate summit made some progress in three important areas:

  • Forests.
  • Funding.
  • CCS.

None of these was dramatic, but at least the direction was right. However, Durban won’t deliver international legally binding targets. Campaigners should drop that particular mantra and focus instead on national (and EU) regulations and taxes.


Discussions on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) led to agreement of a framework for developing countries to reduce deforestation and climate-damaging land use change. The agreement also encourages developed countries to assist in this. Of course, a framework isn’t very exciting and merely ‘encouraging’ rich countries to help may not lead to any actual assistance. The Brookings Institution states that:

The hope is that future multi- or bilateral agreements could arise as a result of the more formalized REDD process imitated under the Cancun Agreements, but as of now this potential remains an open question.

(See Brookings: The Cancun Agreements on Climate Change.)

Green Climate Fund

A Green Climate Fund will be set up. The announcement of yet another fund isn’t valuable in itself and there were no more commitments on money. Rich countries simply reiterated their Copenhagen pledges to provide $30bn fast-start finance for 2010 to 2012 and $100bn annually by 2020. Developed countries wanted this Fund to be managed by the World Bank, one of the largest global lenders to fossil fuel projects (see 9 April 2010: A woeful World Bank decision). Developing countries, in particular China, objected to this. Therefore, the result is a compromise. The new Fund will be under UN auspices, governed by 12 representatives from developed countries and 12 from developing countries. However, for a three year probationary period the World Bank will administer the money. Then a long-term manager will be decided.

Despite the World Bank’s involvement, getting money into this fund should now be the top priority for all climate campaigners. The worst news from Cancun was the rejection by developing countries of a proposal for taxes on aviation and shipping to raise some of the money.


Governments agreed to include CCS in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM is one of the ‘offset’ ways that countries can use to meet their Kyoto targets – they pay for emissions reductions in other countries and can use the certified emissions reductions to reduce the number of emissions counted in their national total. It certainly isn’t a perfect mechanism, but does at least provide funds for projects in developing countries. CCS is an essential technology to develop and deploy – countries aren’t going to stop burning coal and gas any time soon. So, it’s sensible and welcome that some CDM money can now go to CCS.

So how good was Cancun?

Better than Copenhagen, though that isn’t saying a great deal. People I’ve talked to, who were there, say that it was a well-managed event. India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, compared Mexican foreign secretary, Patricia Espinosa, to a “goddess” for her role in securing agreement. That’s a bit OTT, although she does deserve congratulations. A more measured assessment came from Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council:

“A meaningful climate agreement must move us gradually towards a global price on carbon, to enable the private sector to play its key role in financing the energy revolution. The wind industry stands ready to play its part in this revolution.”

(See EWEA blog: Agreement at climate change talks in Cancun is a step forward.)

Sawyer is right that putting a price on carbon is an essential part of the way forward. It would make fossil fuels more expensive to use, so making clean energy relatively cheaper. Global carbon taxes would be wonderful, but won’t happen, partly because governments object to anyone other than themselves setting taxes and partly because specific proposals have specific opponents (as we saw in Cancun with developing country opposition to aviation and shipping taxes).

The next climate summit is in Durban, South Africa in late 2011. It’ll be important, but it won’t deliver everything.  Progressive politicians and climate campaigners must not put all their eggs in that basket. Instead, more effort needs to go into getting national policies strengthened. For Europeans, the EU should also be the focus of more attention. And the G20 needs to focus on climate finance.

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