COP 16 summit at Cancun, Mexico

The Cancun climate summit, or COP 16, in terms of negotiation was a pleasant surprise after the debacle at Copenhagen. In Cancun, countries were able to achieve foundational progress on critical issues and come to a common understanding on how to tackle the problem of climate change. Yes, there were a lot of compromises that were made in lieu of achieving an agreed outcome but they had to be made to make 192 countries come to consensus.

The areas where progress was made were:

  1. Finance, where a new financial pool called the green climate fund was established.

  2. Technology, where a new technology mechanism was established in order to ensure collaborative technological development.

  3. Acknowledgement of the two degree temperature rise threshold.

  4. Mitigation targets from all major emitters regardless of them being developed or developing.

These showed signs of maturity on the part of countries who understood that in order to tackle climate change every country needs to act.

Countries still skirted the issue of a legally binding instrument to control climate change.

India played a critical role at the Cancun negotiations. The country was instrumental in specific areas like transparency where its proposal on consultation and analysis was very well received by various countries and contributed in unlocking a major deadlock between US and China. India also played a significant role in the establishment of a technology mechanism which would possibly help with innovations in technological fixes to help free economies from their addiction to fossil fuels by further enhancing renewable energy technologies and increasing efficiency.

One of the major disappointments of the conference however was that even though countries did finally agree on a common end they did not set out a time line for themselves to get to a comprehensive climate agreement. Countries still skirted the issue of a legally binding instrument to control climate change and shied away from showing leadership on this issue. US and China being major players in the world still could not see eye to eye on many issues. These issues have been parked for South Africa where the next climate conference will be held in 2011.

Over all I think that the conference did deliver more than it had initially intended to do and also delivered more than people were expecting. But some major compromises were made on the environment integrity aspect of the deal itself. Countries were reluctant to put forward ambitious emissions reduction numbers. Even though countries did overcome a lot of architectural issues of designing a fair, ambitious and binding deal, they still fell short of signing one.

We all know that the threat of climate change is real and is becoming stronger with very second delay. It is quite disheartening to see environment ministers of the world converging at an international platform and not addressing the issue of climate change with the sense of urgency it requires. One of the lessons drawn from Copenhagen was that if there is no consensus on the issue - park it. That is why a lot of critical issues like the debate on sources of climate finance were left completely untouched along with issue of long term goal and emission peaking.

Science has clearly substantiated that the likeliness of us facing the brunt of climate change is increasing, yet countries are stalling these negotiations and not moving on very important issues like higher emission reduction targets and sources of finance. With all these fallacies, I still see Cancun as a success because it was able to succeed in getting the ball rolling. Now it is up to us to ensure that this Cancun agreement ends up being a domino effect where countries take leadership at home and ensure that we get a comprehensive deal as soon as possible in order to avoid climate change and ensure survival of the most vulnerable.