The breakthrough that wasn't: at a climate change conference in Cancun, negotiators agreed to meet again. That's pretty much all they agreed on.

Author:Bailey, Ronald
Position:Columns - 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Mexico - Column

ALTHOUGH THE United Nations climate change conference in Cancun was hailed as a breakthrough in the environmental community and the press, it did not do much to address manmade global warming.

Before the conference convened at the end of 2010, developing countries and environmental activists argued that it could be considered a success if participants achieved agreement on three issues. First, developed countries would commit to continuing the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty aimed at stemming global warming, after 2012. Second, developed countries would agree to a legally binding process compelling them to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by something like 40 percent in the next decade. Third, a global climate change fund would be established under the auspices of the United Nations to distribute $100 billion in climate change aid to poor countries each year. Despite the positive spin coming out of Cancun, real agreements were achieved on none of these goals.

Let's start with the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the treaty, 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 agreement. At the Cancun conference, poor countries demanded that the rich countries acknowledge their "historic responsibility" for loading up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. In light of this history, representatives from poor countries such as China and Bolivia argued, rich countries such as the United States and Japan must commit to deep cuts in their emissions before poor countries can be expected even to consider any sort of binding commitments regarding their own emissions.

Since the Kyoto Protocol is the only game in town when to it comes to legally binding commitments, developing countries insisted that rich countries must agree to continue and increase their reduction commitments past its 2012 expiration date. "If the Kyoto Protocol falls," warned Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, "that would feed the efforts of those back in the United States who want to block President Obama from taking further steps to meet his pledge that the U.S. will cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent by 2020." Poor countries actually wanted the rich countries to commit to cuts of 25 percent to 40 percent below their 1990 emission levels.

They didn't get that...

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