Agreement at climate change talks in Cancun is a step forward

Overcoming inertia and self-interests, the international community reached an agreement early today on the need to curb global warming and set the world on a path to a more sustainable future.

While both industrialised and developing nations came together in Cancun, no deal was struck on reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels.

Most observers acknowledged the agreement was much better than the non-binding Copenhagen Accord reached at last year’s UN climate change conference. Of the 193 nations attending the Cancun conference, only Bolivia rejected the agreement, saying it did not go far enough.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said nations agreed to deploy the money and technology that developing countries need to build their own sustainable futures. The countries also agreed to launch concrete action to preserve forests in developing nations.

“They also agreed that countries need to work to stay below a two degree temperature rise and they set a clear timetable for review, to ensure that global action is adequate to meet the emerging reality of climate change,” she said.

The Guardian noted that while the deal commits for the first time all the major economies to reducing emissions, it was not enough to meet earlier promises of keeping the global temperature rise to 2 degrees C.

“Governments failed to reach agreement on how far overall global emissions should be cut,” the Guardian said. “Researchers from the Climate Action Tracker said the pledges would set the world on course for 3.2C warming – a catastrophe for many of the poorest countries.”

Describing the agreement as modest, The New York Times said nations now have another year to decide whether to extend the existing, but limited, Kyoto Protocol on reducing emissions.

“The agreement is not a legally binding treaty, but it allows the process to continue to seek stronger steps in the coming year and, perhaps, a more robust accord at next year’s climate conference in Durban.”

Greenpeace said governments chose “hope over fear and put the building blocks back in place for a global deal to combat climate change. For the first time in years, governments put aside some major differences and compromised to reach a climate agreement.”

Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, noted the agreement rekindles hope for a global, binding climate agreement.

“A meaningful climate agreement must move us gradually towards a global price on carbon, to enable the private sector to play its key role in financing the energy revolution,” Sawyer said. “The wind industry stands ready to play its part in this revolution.”

One of the most critical reactions came from Friends of the Earth International, which said the agreement could lead to a devastating five-degree Celsius warming. “This is a slap in the face of those who already suffer from climate change,” said Nnnimmo Bassey, chair of the environmental group.

By Chris Rose,