Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Climate change conference: Will Cancun deliver?

By Professor Cesare Romano

Once a year the world gathers to discuss what we should do to stop catastrophic climate change, or, more realistically, how we can give ourselves enough time to adjust to its inevitable effects. This past weekend an estimated 15,000 people, representing 194 states, NGOs and media converged on Cancun, Mexico, for the annual ritual of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The last conference of this size produced as much emissions as a 150,000-person Northern European town. However organizers claim as much as possible is being done to keep emissions down--including using solar and wind to generate electricity, reducing water use in hotels and providing hybrid cars for transport. We are all encouraged to calculate our carbon emissions at computers provided at the conference and offset the impact by supporting local projects. The Mexican Government will plant around 10,000 trees and bushes around Cancun. The dress code, usually very formal, has been relaxed. We have all been encouraged by the president of the conference to buy and wear a guayabera, the Mexican male holiday shirt, in lieu of wearing a tie and jacket.

The last meeting of the COP (Copenhagen, December 2010) created very high expectations but failed to deliver. The meeting was emphatically billed as "the last chance to save the planet," and world leaders including President Barack Obama turned up. However, nations, and in particular the two key players, the U.S. and China, failed to agree on a legally binding target to cut emissions. Instead, a weak 'Copenhagen Accord' was signed that allows countries to choose their own targets but has no power to force them to keep the promises.

Will Cancun be different? In comparison to Copenhagen, this meeting has been massively down played. World leaders are not even turning up this time, leaving it to their environment and foreign ministers. It is generally agreed that a global deal to cut emissions is unlikely, now and ever. However, supporters of the process, particularly environmental NGOs, are hopeful that the talks could make progress towards a deal by putting in place the 'functioning architecture'. Don't hold your breath because they have been trying to do that since Berlin in 1995, when truly yours was a young legal intern at the Convention's secretariat.

At a minimum, this time I will have a Guayabera to take home. Stay tuned for more reports from the water-filled trenches of climate change!

This is the first in a series of reports Professor Cesare Romano will file from the Cancun conference.

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