climate talks

Cancun Talks End With Modest Resolutions

The final hours of the 12-day Cancun climate talks ended with what many media outlets, including The New York Times, describe as "modest" results.

"The agreement sets up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, creates new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provides compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the last United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen last year," The Times said.

The fate of Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012, was delayed until next year. But, as this Time article makes clear, there is now a formal commitment by big and emerging nations to make climate action transparent.

Not everyone approved. Bolivia's chief climate guy objected, saying the emissions reductions weren't enough, and actually pave the way for global temperatures to increase to the point where the most vulnerable nations are threatened.

Gretchen Weber of ClimateWatch was a little more upbeat, saying the pact sets the table for more discussions, and quotes Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, as saying the talks were "the most tangible progress in the UN climate talks in years."

It "wasn't enough to save the climate," noted Alden Meyer of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists in this CBC News piece. "But it did restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made."

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Cancun Climate Talks Ebb, Flow In Final Hours

There are hints in the final hours of the Cancun climate conference that modest resolutions could result, but as of 5 p.m. no sweeping changes were in store. Even the issue that seemed to have the best shot at succeeding - protecting forests - appeared to be lagging.

A draft text over REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) has been prepared, but CNN is reporting a lackluster response to it, in part because some nations fear the specter of land grabs to capitalize on a proposed carbon market.

There is hope that feverish negotiations through the night will lead to accords on a proposed Green fund to help developing nations fight global warming, extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 and emissions monitoring. Deadlocks had stalled progress, but late Friday afternoon there were hints of possible compromises on Kyoto and other aspects.

It could be that the 2010 conference will be best remembered for the rising profile of big business. Corporate America is flexing its muscles and taking a leadership role in climate change.

That could be good or bad, as this New Republic story points out. As the story suggests, if world leaders can't agree on how to cut carbon emissions, maybe business will.

The next few hours will tell the story of climate talks 2010.

(photo by climatechangesocialchange)

Bigger Names Show Up at Cancun Climate Talks

Much of the most promising talk at the Cancun climate talks has focused on REDD instead of Green.

It's hard to tell from reports - this one says an accord is near but this one highlights some remaining issues - what the outcome will be, but it's clear that REDD, or "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation," is an important piece of the International climate conference in Mexico.

In fact, Chris Huhne, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is quoted in The Telegraph of London as saying REDD is a Green necessity.

“Success in cutting carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation will not just be a vital part of the fight against climate change; it will also be an important marker of success for the UN process itself,” he says in the article.

About 50,000 square miles of forest are cut down each year – the equivalent of the size of England – for timber or grazing land. It is estimated that deforestation accounts for about 20% of global greenhouse emissions.
Brazil is a leading advocate for preserving rain forests, but there are representatives of more than 190 nations in Cancun to frame an international plan for tackling global warming. The talks have been going slow, but were expected to gain urgency with the arrival this week of more high-powered officials. Those include Japan Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto, Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Time magazine notes that this session, which is the 16th annual, attracted fewer participants and lower expectations. Some draft resolutions are on the table, but there hasn't been any resolution of the big issue - the extension of the Kyoto emissions Protocol, which expires in 2012. On the other hand, agreements at these kinds of conventions come toward the end, which is Friday.

Meanwhile, the two big dogs, China and the United States, are dancing around a plan to monitor emissions. China says it has ambitious volunteer goals to slash emissions, but, considering the amount of poverty in the nation, can't be held to legally binding standards. The United States has said it wants a commitment from China before it agrees to conditions.

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The Light Bulbs Come On In Cancun

Lofty discussion is not all there is at the 2010 climate meeting in Cancun. Representatives of the 190 nations in attendance also are talking light bulbs. Specifically, incandescent bulbs.

A United Nations study released at the conference concluded the world's electrical lighting demand would fall 2% - equivalent to saving 800 million tons of emissions - if every nation switched from incandescent lamps to more energy-efficient alternatives, such as compact fluorescent lamps, according to this report in The Telegraph of London.

The study was designed to show how easy it is to cut emissions if nations took a unified approach. It also points out that simple, and often relatively inexpensive measures, can lead to big results. As we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization tout, energy-efficiency is the low-hanging fruit of the green-energy movement.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu takes that analogy one step further: "When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn't just low hanging fruit; it's fruit laying on the ground," he has said in interviews.

The talks, which are expected to last through Dec. 10, are being held in a hotel resort under a solar-powered roof , near a new power-generating wind turbine and in a region where beaches are eroding in part due to global warming. However, all that may have little influence in a conference where progress comes in tiny increments.

Brazil's president has basically pooh-poohed the conference, Japan stunned participants when it opposed extending the Kyoto emissions protocol (which commits major emitting countries to 1990 emission levels) and observers say the U.S. position has been weakened by mid-term elections that rolled a slew of climate-change skeptics into office.

However, Mexico's environmental minister said he is confident that agreements will be reached for a financing fund and for protection of forests. And, late today, there was some indication that the gap between China and the United States over emissions monitoring may be narrowing.

Baby steps. But at least they are forward.

Cancun Climate Talks Progressing Slowly

Many people deny the existence of climate change, but insurance companies are not among them. One of the reporters covering Cancun Climate Conference 2010 took a side trip to hurricane magnet Grand Bahama, where he visited with locals and talked global warming with insurance consultants Caribbean Risk Managers.

Marketplace reporter Scott Tong says the insurance industry ended the debate some time ago. "Industry has accepted absolutely that climate change is real," Tong quotes insurance company official Simon Young as saying. "There is no debate either at the management level or at the technical level as to whether climate change is going to have an impact on their industry. "

Of course, insurance companies have a vested interest in the issue. After all, they stand to absorb billions in damage claims if the seas rise and coastal regions flood. Here is Tong's story.

Talks are in the early stages and India has proposed a plan that could lead to progress, but few people expect significant results. Incremental steps seem to be the best the 190 countries represented hope for. Mexican officials are pressing for the best possible outcome, but getting a commitment to cut emissions significantly has proved elusive.

President Barack Obama has proposed reducing U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, a target that Mexican climate envoy Luis Alfonso de Alba declared as "modest." And he doesn't see much improvement in the wake of midterm elections that favored Republicans.

Today, the United Nations envoy acknowledged that an extension of greenhouse gas emissions set in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, won't happen in Cancun. “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol,” Christiana Figueres said in this report by Bloomberg.

As a result, the world's second-biggest market for emissions credits could be at risk.

Nonetheless, India is pushing ahead with an ambitious plan that, according to ClimateWire, has the potential to move talks forward. The proposal is for a global monitoring system, but requires stiffer emissions requirements from the United States. And the U.S. has said it will accept binding restrictions only if China does.

It remains to be seen if the gap between China and United States can be bridged.