COP 16 ends: Cancun climate change talks disappoint global expectations*
In the early morning hours of December 11, 2010 a COP 16 Accord was announced. However the text of this Accord did not represent an advance on what came out of last year’s “Copenhagen Accord”, and instead signalled an acceptance of the earlier ´agreement´ thereby evading any real solutions to the climate change crisis.
Though there is talk of multilateralism having been rescued as a by-product of this negotiating process, the reality is that final approval was only reached in negotiations that involved small groups, or by means of informal meetings. This methodology proved divisive for the countries most at risk as they were singled out and offered potential financial benefits accruing from future arrangements if they were to change their positions. This process far from being democratic actually reproduced some of the worst aspects of WTO negotiations where the will of a few nations is imposed at the expense of the needs of the world’s peoples.
The content of the Accord reached in Cancun does not take up the challenge of an immediate response to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that could help reduce the extreme climate events that have been impacting humanity and caused thousands of deaths.
Although there is a mention of a second period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, there is no elaboration on deadlines or mechanisms to ensure that these commitments will be met, and the talk was only focused on the adoption of voluntary commitments. As a result, any adoption of reductions in the level of gas emissions will not be part of a global plan but rather depend on the good will of individual countries. The Cancun talks have laid bare the fact that Northern nations are not willing to significantly reduce their emission levels.
The agreed upon level of an overall increase of 2°C remains the same as what came out of the so called “Copenhagen Accord” and which was widely rejected at the time as being insufficient to guarantee the survival of entire regions of the planet – and yet the 2°C was approved once again. Not only is this target inadequate but it isn’t even backed up by firm commitments, only voluntary offerings that could lead to an increase of 5°C in global warming. This higher level, were it to be reached, would threaten the existence of some island nations, and also threaten the very survival of humanity itself before the end of this century.
The Cancun text mentions the creation of flexible and compensatory mechanisms that would allow countries to meet their reduction targets – this is little more than coded language to open the door to the creation of market mechanisms. These would in fact represent the extension of a logic of financial speculation with regard to the climate crisis, an outcome that experience suggests would lead to profiteering with no real reductions in the level of emissions.
Although the creation of a global fund was approved, there were no guarantees with respect to the resources to be committed to it, where these would come from or how they would be channelled. In addition, the amount being suggested falls well short of what would be required to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis. Although never made explicit in Cancun, countries such as the United States have expressed their preference at other moments for the World Bank to handle this global fund. It should be noted that this is the same World Bank that has been financing extractive and polluting projects, and whose lending practices has led to greater indebtedness for many Southern nations, not to mention that it is a prime mover of the neo-liberal model worldwide. The World Bank is not to be entrusted with the task of looking for real solutions to climate change.
Despite frequently voiced criticisms of the proposals dealing with forests, the Accord’s text only deals with financial considerations with respect to forest management thus further promoting market mechanism solutions while not recognizing the territorial rights of communities. Forests are thus being commodified and reduced to the status of ‘carbon sinks´.
With regard to the transfer of technology, the elimination of intellectual property rights that could allow for the development of sustainable, alternative technologies was left out of the Cancun Accord.
Bolivia presented proposals that took into account discussions held by the social organizations and peoples of many countries, but these proposals were ignored. There was no take-up, for example, on establishing the rights of nature, or on establishing a climate justice tribunal with powers of enforcement. No mechanism exists presently to judge those guilty of worsening the climate change crisis, or of promoting false solutions. A green light has been given to continue the current level of emissions and to promote carbon market mechanisms that would reward emitters, while putting the planet further at risk.
In Cancun the world’s governments were under an obligation to find solutions to the climate crisis and offer answers that could guarantee th survival of humanity – but they were not up to the task. The results from these climate change talks show that the profit motive still trumps life itself and threatens the very survival of the planet.