Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What can we hope for?

Much has been made of the "modest" expectations for the Cancun climate talks. On the heels of the dramatic meltdown that occurred in Copenhagen last year, what exactly can we reasonably expect to come out of the talks here in Mexico?

What we cannot reasonably hope for is any agreement being reached on a legally-binding international agreement that would limit greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) for each country. That was the unattainable goal of the Copenhagen talks. The hope and excitement generated by the public worldwide was that politics and self-interest would be trumped by the UN finally "doing the right thing". It won't happen.

There are too many structural barriers for an international agreement on the reduction of GHGe to be reached by the parties here at COP16. Aside from the global economic crisis and the political intransigence of the U.S., the transitions in infrastructure necessary are simply staggering (more on this later). But this doesn't necessarily mean that the talks are useless or that significant agreements won't be made. They just won't be the home run people thought might have been possible in Copenhagen.

One of the reasons why people were so invested in the talks last year was that the only legally-binding agreement in existence (the Kyoto Protocol) is beginning to time out. If no additional agreement is generated to replace it, then countries that had signed on to the Kyoto Protocol (a notable exception is the U.S.) are free to emit whatever they wish and will not be bound by the pledges they made a decade ago. The final provisions of the Kyoto Protocol time out in 2012 so time is running short.

Prior to the opening of the Cancun meeting, some countries indicated they would push for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol to give the world a bit more time to work out some of the difficult details associated with generating a replacement. Others, such as Japan have opposed this strategy because it would alleviate some of the pressure that currently exists to try and work out these seemingly intractable problems. Either way, this proposed extension of the Kyoto Protocol will be one backstory that will either gain traction or disappear depending on the ability of countries to agree on other more ancillary issues.

One of the main UN committees, the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Change, mercifully known as AWG-LCA, surveyed countries to see what their expectations for the meetings were. In diplomatic language it reads, "...[countries] should take urgent action...consistent with science, on the basis of equity, taking into account historical responsibilities and equitable access to global atmosphere space."

If you understand that last part, please tell me. As for the rest, what it really means is that we can hope for a great deal of other measures that will not be nearly as high-profile but will have the potential to change environments around the world: continued success on issues such as green technology transfer; the creation of a financial fund for developing countries to adapt to some of the worst effects of a changing climate; and offering developing countries incentives to stop or drastically reduce rates of deforestation. We can also hope that progress will be made on agreeing to some of the technical issues undermining trust between countries (such as the means and standards of monitoring emissions being generated by countries at issue between the U.S. and China).

While imposing a limit on GHGe worldwide would immediately generate incentives for renewable energy and lead to whole sectors of the global economy adapting, the impact of these other measures are real. But they will likely generate change on a more local or regional scale.

To those countries most vulnerable to environmental changes being felt today, these measures are seen as not enough. They are fragmentary and are not broadly scaled enough to turn the ship around. But they are a start, and perhaps even progress towards the ultimate goal of generating some international consensus on a strategy to both mitigate and adapt to changing climate conditions. Cancun will not likely stop CO2 emissions but the talks may be able to ameliorate some of the vulnerability felt by the poorest and most at risk nations. That is perhaps the best we can hope for. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.