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Climate Deal Reached in Cancún: Will the Agreement Help Save the Planet?

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The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancún came to a close early Saturday morning after 193 countries signed on to a modest agreement to combat climate change. The deal, known as the Cancún Agreements, commits all major economies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but does not lay out how far overall global emissions should be cut. Researchers from the Climate Action Tracker said the pledges would set the world on course to warm by 3.2 degrees Celsius, which could spell disaster for many of the world’s poorest countries on the front lines of climate disruption. The deal also establishes a green climate fund and reaffirms a goal of raising an annual $100 billion in aid for poor countries to combat climate change by 2020. We speak to Kate Horner, policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, and Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are just back from Mexico. The U.N. climate talks in Cancún came to a close early Saturday morning after 193 countries signed on to an agreement to combat climate change, they said. The deal, known as the Cancún Agreements, commits all major economies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but does not lay out how far overall global emissions should be cut.

Researchers from the Climate Action Tracker said the pledges would set the world on course to warm by 3.2 degrees Celsius, which would spell disaster for many of the world’s poorest countries on the front lines of climate disruption. The deal also establishes a green climate fund and reaffirms a goal of raising an annual $100 billion in aid for poor countries to combat climate change by 2020.

The agreement does not include a commitment to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, when its first period expires. Kyoto is the only treaty that binds rich nations to cut their emissions. However, the Cancún Agreement was hailed as a victory for preventing a complete collapse of the U.N. climate negotiations. Connie Hedegaard, the European Union climate commissioner, said the deal was an extension of last year’s controversial Copenhagen Accord.

CONNIE HEDEGAARD: As always at these COPs, it took awhile. It took many hours, many efforts. But it’s — we succeeded in the end, getting a substantial deal done. You can say that we took the first steps in Copenhagen. Now they are included in the U.N. text. We took some further steps also here that we decided in Cancún on adaptation, on forestry and technology and finance, on a number of issues.

AMY GOODMAN: The Cancún Agreement was reached despite the objections of one country, Bolivia. While U.N. rules usually dictate a consensus of all countries is needed to pass an agreement, Mexican foreign minister and conference president, Patricia Espinosa, banged down her gavel at 3:00 a.m. Saturday, saying the deal would move forward without Bolivia’s approval.

PATRICIA ESPINOSA: [translated] I want to concur with some of the delegations that have already expressed here that the rule of consensus does not mean unanimity. And much less does it mean the possibility that a delegation can impose a right of veto on the will of everyone, who have, after so much work, arrived and reached a decision on an agreement, with so much effort and so much sacrifice in some cases. We have come and worked together, this group of countries that are represented here.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian ambassador Pablo Solón said he could not sign on to an agreement that didn’t guarantee a second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and that resulted in a global temperature rise that could result in what Bolivian President Evo Morales called genocide. Solón blasted the United Nations for closing the deal despite Bolivia’s objections.

PABLO SOLÓN: [translated] Today a rule, which was established in the United Nations framework, has been broken. And this generates a fatal precedent. Those who were there know that they have done everything to impose a position. We will go to the corresponding legal authorities within the convention framework, which clearly states this type of case — also the International Court of Justice.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. Kate Horner is a policy analyst at Friends of the Earth. She joins us on the phone from Cancún, Mexico. And joining us from Washington, D.C., Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress specializing in climate, energy and science policy. He is just back from Cancún.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Andrew Light, you are supportive of the Cancún Agreements. Can you explain what you think they are and why you think they’re so important?

ANDREW LIGHT: Thanks, Amy. I think they’re very important because essentially what we did in Cancún this year was to take the skeletal outline that was produced in Copenhagen last year, the political agreement which could serve as the foundation for a later legally binding agreement, and do two things: number one, actually give it finally the imprimatur of the UNF — Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, the body that just met in Cancún, to give it officially a legal commitment from that body, which it did not have in Copenhagen; and then, secondly, expand on the very thin six pages from the Copenhagen Accord and actually get 30 very good pages of agreements on forestry, on architecture for a green fund, on adaptation, and on measuring, reporting and verifying commitments, which we had not seen before. So I think, actually, we’ve laid the groundwork, finally, for moving forward with a legally binding treaty, which could include not just the Kyoto parties, but also the largest emitters of the world, including the United States and China.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Horner, your assessment of the Cancún Agreements?

KATE HORNER: Well, firstly, just a note on the Copenhagen Accord, which Andrew spoke of, the December 2009 climate talks, at which an exclusive and very untransparent process really ended in acrimony and which led to the drafting of the Copenhagen Accord. That accord was drafted by an exclusive group of countries convened by the Danish government and tabled on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. And as Andrew said, even the secretariat of the convention noted that it had no standing. And it was so — it was met with such disdain by several countries, because it takes a very weak and ineffective approach, in which countries merely pledged their domestic action, regardless of whether, in the aggregate, it leads up to a target that will keep the world safe. That’s the approach taken in the Kyoto Protocol, which so many countries, not just Bolivia, insist on a second commitment period. The developed countries in the world have a legally binding obligation to continue with the Kyoto Protocol and establish a second commitment period.

Here in Cancún, the texts fall radically short on this crucial question of curbing climate change, because, in particular, they enshrine this pledge-based paradigm with rich countries polluting however much they like. According to a recent U.N. analysis, the existing pledges, in the worst case, will lead to in excess of nine degrees Fahrenheit of warming. That kind of warming will lead to unimaginable suffering around the world.

And it’s true, there were some advances made on a global climate fund, which is an institution which will help developing countries with mitigation actions to help them deviate from their current development trajectories which rely on fossil fuels. But there’s no money in that fund presently. And the fund — the numbers that are referenced in the accord right now are absolutely not commensurate with addressing the scale of the need. So, on the whole, it’s a very damaging approach. And I think several countries raised very serious concerns about the implications of this accord and the agreements coming out of Cancún for the Kyoto Protocol, which takes a science-based aggregate target.

AMY GOODMAN: The fund, that will be run by the World Bank, Kate Horner?

KATE HORNER: The fund establishes a role for the World Bank. It’s a limited role, and I think that that was in part because so many developing countries have been so concerned for the last several years about the role of the World Bank. This is not an institution that has climate as its mandate. Even earlier this year, they approved a massive new loan for a coal-fired power plant in South Africa. It’s the largest coal-fired power plant in the world.

And several developing countries wanted to have a fund established under the convention to be able to meet the objectives of the convention, which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem here is that the numbers in the Cancún Agreement, again, reference the numbers in the Copenhagen Accord, in which developed countries are merely required to mobilize jointly $100 billion a year up to 2020. Now, that number is far, far less than what developing countries are calling for, and it absolutely is not commensurate with the scale of the problem that we have in front of us to keep the world in a safe climate future.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Light, your response?

ANDREW LIGHT: Well, a couple things. I mean, first of all, I completely disagree that the Cancún Agreements, or the Copenhagen Accord before it, locks us into some kind of pledge-and-review voluntary emissions program. Both the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancún Agreements are explicit in that they do not foreclose any structure for a later legally binding treaty. What both of these agreements do is a very good job of, first of all, setting a temperature target at two degree Celsius, with a promise to revisit and see if they can actually meet a better temperature target of holding temperature increase at 1.5 degrees Celsius. They invite parties to submit and then have reviewed from an external body their national emission reduction targets. And then that leaves open to place — in fact, specifically in the Cancún Agreements, it says we must go back and look at and try to get targets for emission reductions done in Durban at the next UNFCCC meeting next year in 2011.

Secondly, on the green fund, I think that — that, look, we’ve got to do this one step at a time. The developed countries agreed to $30 billion in fast-start financing up to 2012. Thanks to Japan, largely, which is contributing half of that fund, at $15 billion, they’re going to come in and meet those targets. And then we’re going to build this fund of $100 billion annually, starting in 2020. And then, proceeding forward, of course, I think we’re going to have to add more funds on top of that. The Center for American Progress and the Alliance for Climate Protection released a report last Monday calling for a ramp-up period to actually increase the amount of funding between now and 2020 than what it is currently now. So, absolutely, we need to get more funding mobilized. But I think that we’d have to agree that this is a good start. It’s only a start. It certainly does not foreclose options for improving either emission reduction targets in the future or increasing financing for developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivia’s opposition, Andrew Light?

ANDREW LIGHT: Well, Bolivia’s opposition, I think — I think that the clear — it was not just the Mexicans gaveling through the Bolivian opposition. When Patricia Espinosa did that at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, she clearly had the full support of the hall behind her, all the other 193 parties. So, basically, the Cancún Agreements have been signed off on now by the least-developed countries, the Group of 77, representing all the developing countries, the African Union, the Association of Small Island States. I’m basically going to trust them in their judgment that they’re happy with the Cancún Agreements as the basis for something going forward. I think it would be — it would be really presumptuous to consider otherwise.

In fact, the way that the rules of the UNFCCC are set up, Bolivia has the right to officially protest the fact that their one single objection was gaveled through against the other 193 parties. They chose not to do that. If they had actually leveled — levied an official objection, then what would have been called for under the rules of the convention would have been a floor vote. I think that Patricia Espinosa saw that there was no need for calling a floor vote, given that Bolivia did not levy an official objection. And so, I’m glad to see that we’re moving forward despite the objections of one party.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Horner, your response? And then add the role of the United States.

KATE HORNER: Well, firstly, I think it’s important to note why Bolivia objected. At every turn in the climate negotiations, Bolivia has been a forceful and courageous advocate for what’s actually needed to address this problem. I would also note that in several instances Bolivia has come under extreme pressure from the United States, in particular. As I’m sure many of you saw last week, there was a WikiLeaks article which revealed what we have known for some time: the United States is willing to use its development assistance to pressure other countries to sign up to agreements that are weak and ineffective. That was certainly true of the Copenhagen Accord. And I think that that kind of pressure on poor, developing countries was certainly present here. Even eight hours before that agreement was adopted, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the chair of the Africa group, said a new paradigm based on an accord that was only taken note of [inaudible] does not keep Africa safe; it’s nothing more than a pledging club.

It’s true that no other [inaudible] objected, but I think it’s also important to bear in mind that these are countries that desperately need to make progress on some issues, and they were under an extreme amount of pressure to accept even the small offers that were made by developed countries on establishing a fund. Again, though, the core elements of this negotiation on emissions reductions were far, far less than what is needed and didn’t actually make any advances on what happened in the accord. The developed countries submitted pledges that has, over the course of the year, been analyzed and, as I said earlier, will lead to extreme, dangerous climate change. There was no political change from those countries. And so, I think that’s very dangerous, as well.

And on the role of the U.S., the U.S. has consistently said that it will not sign up to a Kyoto Protocol. This is the only legally binding instrument that we have to address climate change, and the U.S. is refusing to cooperate with the rest of the world. There was a compromise struck three years ago in Bali in which the U.S. agreed to take comparable action under the convention. Instead of negotiating in good faith and attempting to take on comparable action, they have instead advocated very forcefully for this approach, which is called a “pledge and review” paradigm, where countries merely pledge their domestic action. Again, this is a radically different approach than what’s taken in the Kyoto Protocol. And they have insisted on it throughout. The problem with it also is that it serves as a far weaker approach that serves as an incentive to other developed countries to jump ship from their existing obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Taking the “pledge and review” approach alongside the WikiLeaks article and what else we know about the United States, I think it’s been very difficult for the rest of the world to consider that the United States is negotiating in good faith here in the negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: I have one last question. We only have 30 seconds for you both to answer. Start with Andrew Light. Does this mean the end of Kyoto, the only binding treaty for the industrialized world, which is the, you know, emitter of the greatest amount of greenhouse gases?

ANDREW LIGHT: No, it does not. The Kyoto parties can still agree to move forward to a second commitment period, and we’ll see whether or not they make some progress on doing that in Durban, South Africa. The U.S. has said consistently that it will sign on to a legally binding treaty as long as it is reciprocal, in this case meaning that China, India and the other largest emitters in the developing world also sign on. If those countries don’t sign on to binding emission targets, then we will not solve this problem at all. Currently, the Kyoto parties only account for some 30 percent of global emissions. And so, that’s how we need to move forward, is get a binding treaty with all the major emitters.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Horner, ten seconds.

KATE HORNER: The Kyoto Protocol was never meant to capture all emissions. It was meant to capture the vast responsibility for creating this problem, and that’s the developed countries. This is an extreme blow to the Kyoto Protocol, but the question will be for the next year whether countries can again focus on their legally binding obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there. The U.N. climate change summit next year is in Durban, South Africa. Kate Horner, Friends of the Earth, Andrew Light of Center for American Progress, thanks so much for being with us.

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