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What Cancun Means

by Michael Levi
December 11, 2010

The low-drama Cancun climate talks are over, and negotiators are justifiably pleased. The agreement reached here is modest but important. It builds on the political compromise embodied in the unreasonably maligned Copenhagen Accord in two important ways. Substantively, it begins to flesh out many of the accord’s details. Politically, it takes what was a toxic agreement and obtains much more solid buy-in from the most important parties.

The agreement moves forward in a fairly balanced way on each pillar of the Copenhagen accord. It brings the emissions pledges made by all countries into the formal UN process, while maintaining the same legal form for all countries, including both the United States and China. It establishes many of the parameters of a new Green Climate Fund, including many sought by U.S. negotiators, including strong governance and a central role for the World Bank; at the same time, it avoids requiring new financial pledges from the United States, something that will eventually be necessary, but is near-impossible right now.

The agreement cements some basic features of a scheme known as “international consultation and analysis” for ensuring transparency in developing-country emissions cutting efforts, while creating a technical group that will flesh out details, making it much more difficult for China to back out. This was rightly a priority for U.S. negotiators. The parameters of the process are certainly not ideal, but given how reticent China was to accept anything substantive in this area, they constitute real and valuable progress. The agreement also makes some advances in several important areas that were not core to Copenhagen, including deforestation and technology, which is to be applauded.

As important to the outcome as this substance is the process through which it was reached. By all accounts, the Mexican diplomatic team displayed great skill, giving all parties a voice while taking the reality of international power politics seriously. As a result, they eliminated silly procedural excuses for rejecting an agreed outcome, and in doing so appear to have established a much firmer foundation that the Copenhagen accord ever came close to enjoying.

None of this, of course, is world changing. The Cancun agreement, like the Copenhagen accord, is a relatively weak one, not because negotiators lack skill but because the structure of the climate problem conspires against big bang solutions. The Cancun agreement should be applauded not because it solves everything, but because it chooses not to: it focuses on those areas where the UN process has the most potential to be useful, and avoids others where the UN process is a dead end. The outcome does not change the fact that most of the important work of cutting emissions will be driven outside the UN process.

That said, there is one big hole in the Cancun agreement that many observers, in their excitement, appear to have quickly forgotten: its treatment of the Kyoto Protocol. Many developing countries had insisted that rich countries adopt a new set of emissions targets under the Protocol, but Japan, Russia, Canada, and Australia were adamantly opposed. The Cancun result punts the dispute to next year’s talks. But that solution will not be available again: the current Kyoto commitments expire at the end of 2012, making the next UN conference the last practical opportunity to seal a new set of Kyoto pledges. Realistically, though, such commitments are highly unlikely. The big challenge for next year’s talks will be to protect Cancun’s progress and momentum from the inevitable acrimony over Kyoto.

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  • Posted by Arno Arrak

    The unreality of world leaders having been lured into a belief that a climate catastrophe is on the way and that they better do something is simply staggering. There is no anthropogenic global warming now and there never was any. Satellites have been observing global temperature for more than thirty years now and they certainly can’t see it. Satellite temperature measurements are the most accurate and reliable measure of global temperatures we have but none of the custodians of world temperature use it. This means NASA, NOAA, and the Met Office. They have their own secretive temperature sources and if you ask Phil Jones for raw data it was thrown out. The problem starts right at the beginning of satellite era. We are told there was a “late twentieth century warming” in the eighties and nineties. James Hansen even testifies to the senate that warming has started and that carbon dioxide is the cause. This was in 1988. But satellites simply cannot see that Hansen warming. What they do see in its place is a temperature oscillation, up and down by half a degree for twenty years, but no warming until the 1998 super El Nino shows up. That is ten years after Hansen said warming had started. In four years global temperature then rises by a third of a degree and stops. This was the only spurt of global warming within the last thirty years and its cause was not carbon dioxide but warm water brought over by the super El Nino. One third of a degree is half of what is allotted to the entire twentieth century. This is why the first decade of this century is the warmest on record, not some greenhouse effect. There hasn’t been any warming since 2002 and temperature was stable for six years after that. In 2008 the oscillatory climate started up again and is expected to continue with warm El Ninos and cool La Ninas alternating for the foreseeable future. As to Arctic warming, it is entirely real but again not anthropogenic. It started more than a century ago when a rearrangement of the North Atlantic current system redirected the Gulf Stream unto its present northerly course. And if you want to know about the big melt of 2007, that one was also caused by warm water currents. What happened in this case is that strong northerly winds pulled more than the usual amount of warm water through the Bering Strait which then proceeded to melt a big patch of sea ice on that side of the ocean. The Russian side hardly changed but I bet you don’t know this because the pseudo-scientists who collect these data have no idea what is important and what is not. There is more but you have to learn it yourself from “What Warming?” available on Amazon.com. It will help you get rid of that pseudo-science they call “climate” science that has obviously suppressed any semblance of critical thinking in you that we are all supposed to use.

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