Cancun just expanded beyond drug cartels and MTV spring break.
Monday marked the kick-off of the 16th annual Conference of the Parties, the much-anticipated subset of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. Last year’s COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, was wildly unsuccessful, with no international agreement reached and no replacement penned for the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol.
Instead, a pledge to try and keep the global climate rise below 2 degrees Celsius, called the Copenhagen Accord, was presented.
Unfortunately, it’s not legally binding, because not one of the delegates representing 192 nations in attendance actually signed it. They did, however, promise that they would “take note” of the Copenhagen Accord, so we can be comforted in that at least their hearts were in the right place.
Perhaps seeking a more casual atmosphere than last year’s tension-filled summit, COP16 has left Copenhagen behind in favor of Cancun, Mexico.
The choice of location is an interesting one. It places COP16 on the doorstep of many of the nations — namely Bolivia — that did the most to stonewall a global mandate in Copenhagen. (It should be noted that Bolivia went on to host The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which discussed the Kyoto Protocol and related topics in response to the outcome of the Copenhagen summit.)
With the an almost-home turf advantage and an additional year to organize, the question of whether Bolivia will succeed in blocking a global agreement once again and succeed in pushing through aspects of its own agenda is a critical one.
To be fair, Bolivia isn’t determined to keep carbon emissions high — it is concerned that indigenous perspectives are going underrepresented in the current forum of discussion.
Bolivia seems to be on to something.
Last Wednesday, the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention — a temporary subsidiary organization of the UNFCC — issued a new proposal, a possible replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, that doesn’t do the underdog nations of the world any favors. It disregards the suggestions of the 35,000-plus delegates at the World People’s Conference, and it also disregards China’s and Bolivia’s requests for flexible funding to accommodate developing nations.
One of the tenets of the UNFCC and the AWG-LCA, aside from a penchant for lengthy names, is that all countries should reduce their emissions equally. This has been met with concern from many of those countries; developing nations, as they undergo the process of industrialization, often require a high level of carbon emissions.
China has been particularly vocal in expressing that requiring developing nations to cut emissions on the same level as fully industrialized countries is unfair — the United States and Western Europe got free rides because they developed before carbon emissions were on the political radar, and a large part of why carbon levels are so high in the first place is because those countries have been pumping it into the atmosphere for more than a century.
China is now saying that it needs assistance in the form of clean technology subsidized by the industrialized world, and that it shouldn’t be prevented from industrializing simply because of bad timing. If enacted, the proposals of the AWG-LCA could deny it that.
The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Accordingly, this year’s COP is under greater pressure than last year’s to find a replacement agreement, and there has been a lot of concern that even with the benefits of meeting in Cancun, nothing concrete will be decided until COP17 in South Africa.
But despite the Kyoto Protocol’s looming expiration date, if the AWG-LCA’s proposal is the most viable successor, this might be one of the cases in which no decision is a good decision.
Should Cancun prove nothing more than a Copenhagen 2.0, hopefully one more year will be enough time to gently push AWG-LCA aside and come up with something better.
Kastalia Medrano is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism and Editorial Director for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Green Piece,” ran Tuesdays.