Was Cancun a success? Only Durban will tell…
Sitting in the plenary into the wee hours of this morning was both enlivening and deeply conflicting. Hearing nation after nation praise the Mexican government’s transparency and inclusivity and to feel a great sense of excitement in the room that the UNFCCC process could be back on track contrasted sharply with the complete dismissal of Bolivia’s numerous and vociferous objections. The close of these talks in Cancun raises huge questions about what it means to operate under consensus. The adopted texts are, as many delegations agreed, far from perfect, and have no binding agreements; the gigatonne gap remains between the current pledges from the Copenhagen Accord and what science tells us we must do to avoid the devastating impacts of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Nevertheless, this is a tremendous step in getting most nations back to the negotiating table in a spirit of trust and cooperation. It speaks to the deeply divisive and destructive nature of last year’s Copenhagen talks that this sort of weak deal comes with a sense of massive relief.
Ultimately, the success or failure of these negotiations in Cancun will be shown by what the United Nations can achieve by the close of next year’s COP17 talks in Durban, South Africa. If Cancun fosters the political will for nations to come to the table with ambitious, science-based, and legally-binding commitments before and in Durban, it will be a point on the side of success. Durban must also address the major outstanding issues of safeguards for indigenous peoples and frontline communities as well as significant loopholes within various carbon accounting schemes and carbon markets. If, however, the slight progress in Cancun becomes an excuse to lapse back into complacency, or if the South African presidency is not able to continue the transparency demonstrated by the Mexicans, or if we ultimately get another weak, non-binding deal again in Durban, then Cancun will be proved useless. If the UNFCCC is not able to better engage Bolivia and any other nations who emerge to block consensus, faith in the UN process could disintegrate despite the progress of 193 nations in reaching agreement here in Cancun. Incremental progress that necessitates the sacrifice of principle is only conscionable if it succeeds in leading us where we urgently need to go.
So where do we go from here? As a Canadian, I know we have our work cut out for us. Any success in Cancun is despite Canada, not because of us. We can take cold comfort in the fact that, ultimately, we were irrelevant instead of detrimental. Japan backed down on blocking progress under the Kyoto Protocol and Canada sat silently on its hands. Canada blustered and criticized, contributed nothing to improved international cooperation. We brought nothing new to the table and were ultimately awarded the Colossal Fossil once again. If we want to be considered relevant on the international stage, we need to ramp up our action on climate change at home. We need to increase the ambition of our emissions reduction target, develop a strong and equitable plan for its implementation, and transparently carry it through with rigorous reporting. We need to re-establish our commitment to taking action rooted in our historical responsibility for climate change.
We need a government that is willing to engage all stakeholders in a transparent process to justly confront this tremendous challenge, rather than a government that covertly lobbies on behalf of industry that prevents a progressive approach. We need our negotiators to be able to honestly tell us about constructive actions that we are taking. We need not to have to apologize over and over that our government is not representing the will of Canadians.