The new agreement on climate change

Tuesday 14th December 2010
Cancun conference.jpg

Last Friday, delegates to the climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico signed an agreement that has breathed new life back into the climate change process.

Apart from the sole objector Bolivia, the agreement drew a lengthy applause and standing ovation from those in attendance after two sleepless nights of negotiations concluded.

And for frustrated investors waiting to pour money into crucial emission-reducing technology, a deal which will create the demand they need may finally be starting to look likely.

The new agreement

As hoped, delegates agreed on a framework for paying countries not to cut down their forests.

The world is losing 6 million hectares of forests each year, and deforestation is the single largest contributor to global warming, given trees absorb carbon dioxide and release it when they are cut down.

The framework is known as REDD+: REDD standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, and + meaning also trying to enhance and grow more forests.

Under the framework, rich countries will compensate poor country governments, farmers and villagers for opportunity cost – what they would have earned if they had cut down forests on their land.

The scheme has already been running reasonably successfully in places like Brazil and Indonesia, with Norway contributing over US$1 billion so far, and more coming from the World Bank, the UN and other governments and foundations.

So why should rich countries pay? The reason is because rich countries cut down their forests during the last few centuries to allow themselves to develop, contributed hugely to global warming.

Morally, poor countries should be allowed to do the same. So if rich countries don’t want them to cut down trees, they will have to pay them to develop another way.

This moral argument is accepted by all and is why deforestation has been considered one of the easiest and most important issues to find a solution for.

The other is providing funding to the poor world to assist both with the impact of climate change (like building flood defence walls and irrigation systems) and to economically develop in a low-carbon way.

The moral argument for such a fund is the same as deforestation. The rich world was able to grow economically using coal, oil and other environmentally harmful methods, so if the poor world has to develop cleanly, they should be assisted with money and technology.

In the agreement, the Green Climate Fund will gradually transfer US$100 billion a year by 2020 from the rich world to the poor world. It will be run by an independent board and the World Bank will act as trustee.

This fund and the REDD+ framework are Cancun’s two main achievements. However, other significant steps have been taken as well.

There will be a Cancun Action Framework for adapting to climate change, a new programme for transferring technology to poorer nations, and a system for verifying and monitoring emissions cuts (for those countries receiving financial assistance).

These will outline in specific detail how such issues can be resolved – a fresh break from the vague talking that has plagued the UN climate process.

As expected, a legally-binding commitment to emissions cuts wasn’t achieved, but the agreement did formally recognise that countries must commit to bigger cuts than they are currently pledging.

The EU was hoping that the Kyoto Protocol, the legally-binding agreement for all rich countries (except the US) to cut emissions until 2012, would be extended.

However, with Kyoto participants only producing 30% of all global emissions, Japan, Russia, Canada and Australia didn’t want to recommit without America, China and others involved.

In the end, a compromise was made whereby work will begin on creating a second period of the Kyoto Protocol “to ensure that there is no gap” after 2012, but there is no current obligation for any country to be a part of it.

Despite Bolivia persistently preaching that the commitments weren’t enough, the agreement has been officially adopted as consensus by the UN Climate Change process (unlike in Copenhagen) which has added new substance and impetus to the global warming movement.

Credit has been universally given to Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s foreign minister and the president of the conference, for her team’s negotiating efforts to break the deadlock and produce the agreement’s final text.

Now delegates and organisations are looking to South Africa’s conference in November 2011 as a possible setting for a legally-binding agreement on emission reductions – the catalyst that will spark the green technology revolution.

But the key lesson from Copenhagen and Cancun appears to be not to let expectations get too high. That only serves to pressure negotiators into confrontation and inflexibility, rather than cooperation and compromise.

Nevertheless, time is running out to prevent a warming beyond two degrees Celsius, and there are a lot of changes to be made.

By The Casual Truth

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