Waking up from the hangover of Copenhagen (op-ed)

Published: 14th December 2010

For the past year we have all operated under the hangover of Copenhagen: the disappointment, suspicion, scepticism and disorientation. And while there was so much more that could have been accomplished at Cancun, the other side of these talks is a better place to be.

The Summit in Cancun was certainly not perfect, but the building blocks to get us back on track to the ultimate prize of a fair, ambitious legally binding deal have been laid. This is important. We have turned a corner, away from the cold grey shambles of Copenhagen, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Mexican government.

The kind of progress made in Cancun is not the makings of front-page news. But ironically far more was achieved in this Mexican holiday resort than in the hype-fest this time last year. Yes, the Cancun deal is not enough to tackle global climate change on its own, but life-saving decisions have been made.

Most notably, the Climate Fund, has been set up – a one-stop shop which will stream-line delivery of crucial funding to the people and communities that need it most in the face of climate impacts. This was always the cornerstone to getting a deal between rich and poor countries in Cancun

The woefully inadequate emissions cuts pledges that were made after Copenhagen have now been set as a minimum, and there is a pathway for these to be raised so they keep up with the science.

The Kyoto Protocol – brutally battered during the past two weeks – has survived. Just. So much more needs to be done, but we now have a baseline that emissions cuts must be relative to 1990 - not 2005 – and therefore more ambitious. There is now more confidence among developing countries that richer nations support the continuation of the second commitment period.

This is not the end of the story – it is the beginning. We need to increase the pledges in the Cancun Agreement and ensure compliance mechanisms are in place for the United States so that we have real emissions reductions. This is crucial as the United States do not have legally binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol.  We need sources of long term funding identified: perhaps the International Maritime Organization will step up to the mantle when it meets in the Spring to discuss levies on international shipping, which are currently unregulated. International aviation must also be part of this equation.

Women, among the most affected by climate change, have become invisible in the Finance agreement, having made a brief appearance earlier last week when it was proposed that women be represented on the Climate Fund Board. They must be represented.

Away from the UN climate talks, nation states and blocs can increase their resolve to tackle climate change. The EU must increase its emissions cuts target from 20 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 to at least 30 per cent. The UK should adopt the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to set a target of 60 per cent by 2030. Rich countries must learn from the ‘pilot’ of Fast Start Funding so that long term financing is truly additional to development aid.

Rich countries must show much more resolve in leading the fight against global climate change. In the US, efforts may need to be rebuilt from the bottom up – mobilising the grass roots for strong action at State level and continuing to press for the federal action that continues to act as a break on truly global climate action.

Brazil, South Africa, India and China should build on the ambitious actions they have outlined since Copenhagen and in Cancun, setting a new model of clean development and poverty eradication. And governments of vulnerable countries – those least responsible for the climate crisis, but suffering first and worst from its savage effects – must develop long-term plans to build the resilience of their people and communities from climate impacts. Many of the poorest countries have already outlined ambitious plans to control their emissions growth – like the Maldives’ plan to be carbon neutral by 2020. The international community must support them in these life-saving efforts.

Cancun is an important chapter in the epic story to tackle global climate change. If countries view Cancun as they should - a turning point from which to build from – the end of the book could well be in sight.

- Jeremy Hobbs – Executive Director of Oxfam International

Cancun is an important chapter in the epic story to tackle global climate change. If countries view Cancun as they should - a turning point from which to build from – the end of the book could well be in sight.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International