Greenhouse gases

Cancun Climate Change Breakthrough Greatly Exaggerated

Climate change negotiators agree to meet again next year in Durban. And that's pretty much all they agree on.

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The United Nations climate change conference in Cancun is being hailed by many news outlets and environmental activists as a "breakthrough." For example, the liberal magazine, Mother Jones headlined it as "Cancun Climate Breakthrough;" Canada's Globe and Mail declared, "Global accord on climate change hailed as breakthrough;" and National Journal asserted, "Breakthrough Made in U.N. Climate Talks." Breakthrough is generally taken to mean an activity that is characterized by major progress in overcoming some obstacle. Are the Cancun Agreements really a breakthrough when it comes to addressing the issue of man-made global warming? Not so much.

Going into the conference, developing countries and environmental activists argued that it would be a success if agreement was achieved on three issues. First, developed countries would commit to continuing the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. Second, a legally binding process would be launched that ends up with rich countries agreeing to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions somewhere in the realm of 40 percent by 2020. And third, a global climate change fund would be established under the auspices of the U.N. to distribute $100 billion annually in climate change aid to poor countries. Despite the positive spin [PDF] coming out of Cancun, real agreements were achieved on none of these goals.

Let's start with the future of the Kyoto Protocol [PDF]. Under the Kyoto Protocol rich countries agreed in 1997 to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide, by an average of 5 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. The United States never ratified the treaty. At the Cancun conference, the developing countries insisted that rich countries agree to continue and increase their commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions past the 2012 end of the Kyoto Protocol. Poor countries actually wanted the rich countries to commit to more than Kyoto—they lobbied for cuts of 25 to 40 percent below their 1990 emissions levels. They didn't get that commitment.

In fact, the negotiators merely agreed that the Conference of the Parties "shall aim to complete its work" [PDF] on extending the Kyoto Protocol with the goal of having "its results adopted by the Conference of the Parties…as early as possible and in time to ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods." The operative phrase is "shall aim." It is clear that the rich countries did not agree to continue the Kyoto Protocol; they agreed to continue talking about continuing the Kyoto Protocol. It is also worth noting that both Russia and Japan flatly stated that they were dropping out of the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

What about legally binding emissions reductions commitments by the rich countries? As the Copenhagen climate change conference came to its chaotic end last year, the U.S., China, India, South Africa, and Brazil hastily put together the face-saving Copenhagen Accord. Under the Accord both rich and poor countries could make voluntary pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and engage in other activities with the aim of mitigating future man-made climate change. The Accord had no official status under the United Nations climate negotiation process. The Cancun Agreements now take note of the emissions reduction targets promised under the Copenhagen Accord, but the crucial point is that the pledges remain voluntary, they are not legally binding.

The spin coming out of Cancun is that these pledges now have official status under the U.N. negotiations process, so that they can form the basis for future legally binding commitments. In plain fact, developed and developing countries not are legally bound to do anything about their emissions under the Cancun Agreements.

As for getting industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40 percent by 2020, the agreements note that the conference "recognizes that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science." As a consequence, the agreements suggest "that Parties should take urgent action to meet" the long-term goal of "reducing global greenhouse gas emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels." Note that this amounts to merely a suggestion that action be taken; there is nothing legally binding here either.

At the conference, it was obvious that the developing countries were mostly eager to use concerns about climate change as way to shake down rich countries for billions in climate reparations. In Cancun, the conference of parties officially "decides to establish a Green Climate Fund." But what does this decision amount to? At least initially, not much. Under the Cancun Agreements, the Green Climate Fund will be designed by a Transitional Committee which will submit its proposals for approval at the next climate change meeting. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean that the structure of the Green Climate Fund will actually be approved at that time.

The agreements also "recognize" that the rich countries "commit…to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries." Two nice weasel words here: goal and mobilizing. It is obvious that committing to a goal is not the same as reaching that goal. Cognizant of the vagueness of the term "mobilizing," developing country negotiators in Cancun wanted their money upfront and so kept pushing for climate aid to be publicly financed and provided as grants on a government to government basis. They fear that accounting tricks will be substituted for hard cash. And 10 years is a very long time when it comes to keeping diplomatic promises.

At the close of the conference, Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s top climate official, declared, "Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored." Figueres is clearly exaggerating what was accomplished in Mexico, but the Cancun Agreements did achieve one "breakthrough": they resuscitated the multilateral climate change process, enabling United Nations bureaucrats, representatives from non-governmental activist groups, and environmental officials from 194 countries to justify gathering again for the 17th time next year in Durban, South Africa.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. See? Consensus!

  2. The kind of breakthrough I want these people to have is the kind they’re not capable of having.

    1. Ron, you had written about Intellectual Ventures. what was the title/date. thanks

      1. And don’t call me Shirley.

      2. Bucky: Take a look at my column, Superfreaking Out Over Climate Engineering, and my article, The New Nuclear Future, in Chief Executive Magazine.

    2. The kind of “breakthough” that is needed is for them all to fall through thinning ice….

  3. both rich and poor countries could make voluntary pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and engage in other activities with the aim of mitigating future man-made climate change

    Since everyone agrees AGW is a grave global crisis, this is happening anyway, right? Right?

  4. At the conference, it was obvious that the developing countries were mostly eager to use concerns about climate change as way to shake down rich countries for billions in climate reparations.

    No!

    In Cancun, the conference of parties officially “decides to establish a Green Climate Fund.” But what does this decision amount to? At least initially, not much.

    The developing countries will at least pray to Evo Morales for much-needed guidance and strenght.

    Under the Cancun Agreements, the Green Climate Fund will be designed by a Transitional Committee which will submit its proposals for approval at the next climate change meeting. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that the structure of the Green Climate Fund will actually be approved at that time.

    Or… ever.

  5. I sincerely hope these people continue to congratulate each other for accomplishing absolutely nothing for a long, long time.

    Or, at least until the pendulum swings completely back, and the goal is to pump out as much Greenhouse Gas as possible, because it’s determined that we’re actually re-entering a significant cooling phase, and we need all the warmth we can muster. A trial balloon of this concept can be found creeping its way into the most amazing places – such as NASA boilerplate, for instance.

    According to scientists’ models of Earth’s orbit and orientation toward the Sun indicate that our world should be just beginning to enter a new period of cooling — perhaps the next ice age.

    It’s enough to induce climate terror whiplash, I tells ya.

    1. >I sincerely hope these people continue to congratulate each other for accomplishing absolutely nothing for a long, long time.

      At this point I strongly suspect most of the delegates are only in it for the buffet.

      1. As long as I am not paying for the buffet. If I am, may I suggest that they hold the next summit at the Sleep Eazy Motel out on Rt.5 they have all you can eat Breakfast and Omlet bar for 10.99 and they have magic fingers in the room…supply your own happy ending.

  6. Have fun being on the wrong side of history, guys.

    Mother nature bats last and bats 1.000…and our grandkids aren’t going to be happy about being repeatedly grand-slammed.

    I wonder if I could interest you guys in some anti-spit coatings for your gravestones?

    1. That’s what Hitler said.

    2. Ha-haaaa, this might be the funniest “threat” I’ve ever read on the Internets.

      Instead of our gravestones, you and all your shyster Chicken Little buddies might want to start preparing for your congressional investigation, bucko. It’s going to start in about three to four weeks.

      1. The funny part is, Mike, that I really do know a lot about anti-spit coatings.

        lol

      2. You have to be kidding! The chickenshit Republicans will do nothing.

    3. Re: Chad,

      Have fun being on the wrong side of history, guys.

      “La historia me absolvera!”

      Mother nature bats last and bats 1.000…

      Which explains that East Anglia e-mail where one of the scientists was concerned that they could not explain the lack of warming… Nature does indeed have the last laugh.

      […] and our grandkids aren’t going to be happy about being repeatedly grand-slammed.

      I’m pretty sure my grandkids will be happy to inherit my estate. If YOU want to give your property and savings [your children’s inheritance] to a Big Bad Ass Green Fund, go ahead: I won’t stop you.

      I wonder if I could interest you guys in some anti-spit coatings for your gravestones?

      I plan to be cremated, Chad – more environmentally friendly… because it is LESS EXPENSIVE.

      Only greenies and STATIST FUCKS such as yourself would construe more expense as “saving the planet.”

    4. Chad|12.14.10 @ 5:51PM|#
      “Have fun being on the wrong side of history, guys.
      Mother nature bats last and bats 1.000…and our grandkids aren’t going to be happy about being repeatedly grand-slammed.”
      So we’re dying to hear (pun intended); please tell us when the rapture happens.

    5. Be sure to pack your condoms for that Durban conference.

    6. Mother nature bats last and bats 1.000.

      Thanks for your hyper-religious gaiaist commentary. You can go worship a cockroach now.

    7. If mother nature were so fragile human life as we know it would have never evolved. Just because Al Gore says that scientists have a consensus doesn’t necessarily mean its true.

    8. I hope Al Gore gets mauled by a polar bear.

    9. The Earth Mother has never failed to grand-slam the grandkids of the non-believers!!

  7. Let’s start with the future of the Kyoto Protocol [PDF]. Under the Kyoto Protocol rich countries agreed in 1997 to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide, by an average of 5 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. The United States never ratified the treaty. At the Cancun conference, the developing countries insisted that rich countries agree to continue and increase their commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions past the 2012 end of the Kyoto Protocol. Poor countries actually wanted the rich countries to commit to more than Kyoto?they lobbied for cuts of 25 to 40 percent below their 1990 emissions levels. They didn’t get that commitment.

    Rich countries, poor countries. WTF?

    I never agreed to anything, and nobody else at H&R agreed to anything. If the pols want to agree to pay, then WTF, they can pay…

    1. btw, how do you get that line to left to appear when you are quoting text?

      1. Use the blockquote tag.

        1. Sweet…

          always wanted to know how to

          Use the blockquote tag.

          Thanks…

  8. “a global climate change fund would be established under the auspices of the U.N. to distribute $100 billion annually in climate change aid to poor countries.”

    Uh, excuse me for being dense, but how is giving this money to corrupt/incompetent third-world dictators supposed to stop AGW? Or is this something else that’s scheduled to be worked out at the next meeting?

    1. The idea is that the money will supposedly be used to offset their costs of reducing CO2. Or you know, another fleet of Lincolns.

  9. They can spout their quasi-religious socialist drivel until Al Gore goes to his reward, but the U.S. Senate has not and will not ratify any treaty which concedes that much U.S. sovereignty to a bunch of rag-headed ideologues … unless they’re in the U.S. Senate or House, of course. *sigh*

  10. If anyone at this conference was actually interested in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, there is a simple way to do this: set up the $100 billion fund as a prize for any person or group who can discover or invent a Clean, Safe and Reliable source of energy for the world to use. The interest on the fund could be used for grants to any projects which seem likely to meet the CSR energy goal.

    IF you accept that carbon-based fuels are dirty, that nuclear fission is inherently unsafe, and that wind and solar power are largely unreliable, then only a new type of technology is the answer to this problem. A $100 billion prize would stimulate a lot of people into finding that answer. Personally, my money’s on geothermal. We are living on a big hot rock, after all.

    But the people involved in these conferences have no interest in actually solving any problem other than not being rich enough. The UN is one giant shakedown organisation, so it should come as no surprise that the UN was using this conference to attempt another shakedown. They can talk as much as they like; nobody is listening. People are just going to keep on using whatever is available until it runs out or something better comes along.

    The $100 billion prize would be one way to make sure something better comes along.

  11. If they were serious about reducing carbon emissions, why didn’t they have an e-conference?

    Why do all of their solutions to a ‘scientific’ problem always involve government, taxation, and redistribution of wealth?

    At what point would they ever admit that they are either wrong, or don’t fully understand earth’s climate? If the temp goes down 1 degree? 5?

  12. They would miss the climate whore-groupies at an e-conference. And the drugs, the parties, etc.

  13. They would miss the climate whore-groupies at an e-conference. And the drugs, the parties, etc.

    Yeah, they’re going to Durban for the next climate confab? Why don’t they setup shop in one of the climate-ravages shit-holes they so infamously care about? The only consensus they’ve reached regarding the third world is a promise to fly over it in some new, interesting way next year…and leave a little carbon behind.

  14. Last weekend I went skiing in Cancun.

  15. I think Ron’s being a bit disingenuous here. No serious people seriously expected Cancun to agree continuation of the KP or a new binding agreement covering the US and developing countries. Nobody even expected the question of the legal form of a final outcome to be resolved there. The hope was to get a package of less controversial elements and some building blocks in more difficult areas (like reporting/transparency), and the substantial risk was that nothing would be agreed at all. That risk was averted, and the outcome is very substantial – in the context of the negotiations as they are.
    The multilateral negotiations are painfully slow, exhausting, frustrating – and essential if we’re to have even modest success in reducing the scope of human-induced climate change.

  16. Global warming my ass.

  17. We indeed know now that it was definitely exaggerated.

  18. http://www.louisvuitton.be/lou…..-p-77.html It was very cool, but i didn’t see Fergie

  19. How about mbt kisumu sandals this one: there are X driving deaths a year- what % of driving deaths (or serious injuries) involve alcohol, or other intoxicating substances? kisumu 2 People are pretty darn good drivers when they are not impaired.

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