The ghost at the conference

The climate change conference at Cancún reached a deal. I had not expected it to do so, I must admit. But as I read through the two main documents that make up this deal, I fail to find any substance to it. There are no specifics, and most decisions are put off until next year.


The delegates at the conference are politicians and diplomats, it is their job to compromise until all parties are somewhat satisfied. To them a deal of any sort is a victory to be lauded. But if the compromise says nothing, what is the point of this “deal”?

Unfortunately nature does not compromise.

Nature has no voice at human conferences, but it will make the ultimate decision on whether humans will continue to live on earth.

As far as I can tell, no reduction pledges were made at Cancún, meaning we still have the pledges from the Copenhagen accord which will limit warming to 3.2°C in this century (if they are kept — and the US has shown no sign of living up to its commitment). So 3.2°C is the best case scenario at the moment. But that means that most of the island nations will be inundated as will many coastal cities. Wildfires will become worse in California, Australia and the Mediterranean. Massive droughts will afflict the major grain growing areas of the world and the food supply will be at risk. The rise may be enough to pass tipping points that cause run-away positive feedback in temperature rises.

Starving people tend to fight. And it won’t be just Africans starving. It will be in the US, in Russia, Europe, China. There will be war.

Copenhagen produced a single 2 page document, which really said nothing. Cancún seems to have produced more than two dozen pdf files, the first of which is 30 pages long. There seem to be two main documents though.

The first document (the big 30 page one) makes the illuminating claim that the parties will “work towards identifying a timeframe for global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available scientific knowledge and equitable access to sustainable development, and to consider it at its seventeenth session.” Which sounds like nothing was done, and it’s all put off until next year.

Scientific knowledge says we should have peaked years ago. We should never have started the industrial revolution.

I am concerned that section III.B “Reaffirms that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.” If poverty reduction is the overriding focus then emissions will not drop, they will rise.

The finance section (IV, page 15) seems to reiterate the measures decided at Copenhagen, but does not contain any commitments from donor countries, just the vague statement that almost $30 billion US will be available (from somewhere) between 2010 and 2012. (Funny, I thought Copenhagen said  it would be 30 billion, not “almost”). And that $100 billion US will be available annually after 2020 (again, from somewhere).

It does say that finance will flow through a new fund under control of the Conference of Parties, and initially be administered by the World Bank. Which will not please the developing nations who do not trust the World Bank, and means that more infrastructure needs to be created before anything happens. And means that a new system must be developed to prevent corruption in the use of the new fund.

There is some talk of preserving forests, but, again, if anything real was said, I missed it.

As far as I can tell this document is full of good intentions but no substance. As with the Copenhagen accord emission reduction targets are in a separate document which has not yet been written (at least that’s how I interpret III.A.36 — top of page 7).

From the first newspaper article I read, I had thought the deal extended the Kyoto Protocol, but as I read the text of the second document, all that has been agreed is that the parties will “aim to complete its work pursuant to decision 1/CMP.1 and have its results adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol as early as possible and in time to ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods“. In other words, they agree to extend the protocol sometime in the future. But we’ve been told that before. COP 13 had already agreed that the Kyoto Protocol would be extended no later than the Copenhagen conference in 2009. Last year.

Other people seem more sanguine about the results than I. The only good thing I see is that people are still talking. But talk isn’t much good, and I see no sign of real action.

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