What Cancún Agreement?

Trying to work out what was agreed at the Cancun climate change conference.

The Cancún climate conference, aided by artfully maintained low expectations after Copenhagen, and first-class management by the Mexican hosts, is pleased with itself. The final package was approved unanimously minus Bolivia: Cuba, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia deserted the holdout camp at the last moment. But what did they actually agree to?

Here´s the press release and the full package of agreements. This paper seems to to be the key part. The final declaration (if there was one) isn´t yet up on the website. (Update: I think there isn’t one, deliberately so – reflecting Figueres’ pragmatic, incrementalist, no-big-bang approach.)

UN documents are so larded with PC gestures to gender equality, indigenous peoples, self-determination and the like, (Update: as well as esoteric insider references to earlier meetings and processes) that the uninitiated (including me: I worked for a European, not a UN organization) find it very hard to echo-locate the meat if any. My skim may well be wrong. However, the green NGOs like Greenpeace are pretty happy with the deal, cautioning that most of the real work has been kicked – yet again – down the road.

    • The target of limiting global warming to 2°C limit was reaffirmed, and every country should act urgently towards it. This was already in the final Copenhagen ¨accord¨, but that wasn´t a true consensus, as in Cancún. Bolivia wanted 1.5°C, like the small-island nations; so we can say that a 2°C ceiling at most is strictly unanimous within the international community of states. GOP denialists really have no friends left in power abroad.
    • To meet this, greenhouse gas emissions must peak fairly soon. (I think this recognition of the bleeding obvious is in fact new.)
    • The Kyoto Protocol, expiring in 2012, should (they say) be updated and extended without a gap. As China, the USA, and India are not in the list of commitment countries, the badly distorted existing régime will continue, at best. (But notice how badly this is turning out for Germany on growth, exports and green technology?)
    • The USA, with no leverage left, gave in to China on binding monitoring. (I think). Reporting on emissions will be national and I assume creative.
    • Rich countries promised a $30bn green technology fund for LDCs, run ¨initially¨ by the World Bank. (A nice recovery by Zoellick from the appalling goldbug gaffe.) The Bank takeover was one of Bolivia´s objections.
    • Latino women make good diplomats: credit to conference chair Patricia Espinosa (Mexico) and executive secretary Christiana Figueres (Costa Rica).
    • Espinosa´s final decision to tell the grandstanding Bolivians to STFU is a precedent, and shifts the UN system away from strict consensus and one-country veto. If Bolivia can be overruled today, a bigger country can be overruled tomorrow. About time; strict consensus among 193 players is an impossible rule of governance for anything.

Corrections welcome in comments. I´ll update the post to remove the most egregious errors you point out.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

17 thoughts on “What Cancún Agreement?”

  1. It's amusing to the the "Gore Effect" is still in operation. I wonder if it could be harnessed on a large scale for geo-engineering?

  2. Please explain. Do you really think that 193 governments are responding to Gore's documentary rather that what their national science academies and the IPCC have been telling them for ten years, not to mention TV newa of forest fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes?

  3. No, James, Brett is echoing the stupid, childish wingnut point that when people gather to discuss global warming the actual weather is sometimes on the cold side. (The meme started with a Gore speech that took place with snow flying outside.) Brett, I'm used to your trolling, but please try to keep it within the bounds of adult discourse.

  4. Brett may be a bit peeved at the end of a lousy couple of months for global warming denialism.

    – A key report produced for Congress in 2006 by George Mason University professor Edward Wegman purporting to debunk the "hockey stick" paleoclimate model is coming under scrutiny for plagiarism. Wegman's links to oil-funded Republican Congressman Joe Barton (who commissioned the report) are questionable.

    – A year after the faux-scandal "Climategate" which was supposed to be "the final nail in the coffin" for global warming, climate science is sailing on, and the evidence for global warming is stacking up even stronger. Five investigations have cleared teh scientists, and it is now a nullity in the public mind.

    – When the usually stolid denialist Daily Telegraph of London (nicknamed the Daily Torygraph) writes about denialists as a sort of burlesque troupe of mountebanks, you know the jig is up: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/clim

    Finally, the Cancun agreement is deeply symbolic that the world is alerted to climate change and supports the science. The fact that many developing countries like the Pacific Islands are living with the facts of global warming cannot be lost on the western public.

    The only bright spot on the denialist horizon is the return of so many denialist politicians to power in Washington. In the dissonant struggle between pollitics and science, who will be the winner. Politicians dictating to the scientists, I submit, will be too blatant for even the most rebellious American citizen to stomache.

  5. (Mark Kleiman): "No, James, Brett is echoing the stupid, childish wingnut point that when people gather to discuss global warming the actual weather is sometimes on the cold side. (The meme started with a Gore speech that took place with snow flying outside.) Brett, I’m used to your trolling, but please try to keep it within the bounds of adult discourse."

    Funny you should mention that, given "stupid, childish, wingnut", the frequent "teabag" and "teabagger" slurs on this site, and the fact that, while you'all tolerate this, my objection (comments, "Yes, Virginia, there Will Be Death Panels", 2010-12-03-7:49) is "awaiting moderation".

  6. (Toby): "A year after the faux-scandal “Climategate” which was supposed to be 'the final nail in the coffin' for global warming, climate science is sailing on, and the evidence for global warming is stacking up even stronger. Five investigations have cleared teh scientists, and it is now a nullity in the public mind."

    I recommend Climate Audit and Bishop Hill for a different view of the science and the investigations. Phil Jones escaped prosecution for FOI violations only because of a statute of limitation. Penn did not interview any of Michael Mann's critics, and in reviewing the science behind UEA, Muir Russell investigated only eleven papers which Jones himself (apparently) selected, according to Climate Audit and Bishop Hill.

    One problem with this discussion is people have a hard time expressing carefully exactly where they disagree. Consider "climate change" and "deny climate change". I don't know that anyone denies that the Earth's climate has changed. One reason to doubt the case for human agency in whatever recent changes people report is that climate has varied in the past, so "climate change" is part of the case against human agency. Extracting a human-induced signal from the noise of natural variability requires considerable statistical expertise.

  7. I think I'm not the one who's peeved, if you folks can't find any amusement at all in record low temperatures striking Cancun during a global warming conference. You'd certainly yuck it up if the 'denialists' held a conference in Saskatchewan, and people were dropping in the streets from heat stroke. But let people don sweaters on a tropical beach during one of your conferences, and it's "Move along, nothing to see, and don't you dare laugh."

    Of course, we knew you were unsure of your own case, when you changed the label from "global warming" to "climate change", to cover your bases…

  8. Notice to Malcolm and others:

    This post is about the Cancún conference and more generally muiltilateral action and inaction on mitigation of, and adaptation to, current and foreseen climate change. Comments on the subject are very welcome. But any further off-topic comments repeating denialist talking points will be deleted. I advise non-denialists not to fall into the trolling trap. See my personal and hard-line comments policy on climate change here. My lawn, get off it.

    Denialists may find my language offensive; but you wouldn´t expect me, would you, to give space to ecoterrorists here, Holocaust deniers in a post on Israel, tobacco industry apologists in a post on cancer, or flat-earthers in a post on astronomy? That is the company I judge you to keep. Go into the ring if you are up to it against proper experts with time to spend on low-payoff debate at a site like Deltoid.

    I will also delete comments trying to reopen the question indirectly by challenging the policy. Email me or Mark if you don´t like it.

  9. I have looked at Climate Audit and found it anti-scientific and dangerously obsessive about the paleoclimate researchers it had chosen to target.

    Whle claiming to "audit" climate science, I have never see it extend its audit remit to fellow denialist websites. It appears to single mindedly pursue a key group of scientists using every unfair trick it can find – every trick except to publish research in peer-reviewed journals demonstrating some of its tenets.

    The Wegman report, now generally accepted as plagiarized and defective, was largely derived from Climate Audit's "analysis".


    I ask anyone to watch the first hour of this video by one of Climate Audit's targets (Dr Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory) and see if they still retain any respect for the protagonists of Climate Audit.


    Bishop Hill is just a chip off the Climate Audit block.

    [I´ll allow this but only because I agree. But don´t feed the trolls! The RBC isn´t even the place for refutation – JW]

  10. Hear that? That was the sound of an "epistemic closure" going "click"…

    {No, it´s the door closing in your face. – JW]

  11. Dan stands and gives Mr Wimberley a golf clap

    I have found it fruitless to engage in…um…"debate"…with the 7-11% of the population unwilling to admit that basic physics works here on Planet Earth. People that trot out the…um…"Schneider quote" are a major reason for unfruitfulness, and I encourage others to ignore the small minority of the population clinging to outdated beliefs. Please. Everyone. Ignore this small minority. Please. Ignore. Do not engage, especially to…erm…"correct" their "facts". Ignore. Please. Thank you in advance.

  12. I have always loved this dialogue, which I think is from a Preston Sturges film:

    "Is it good luck or bad luck when a black cat crosses your path?"

    "That depends on what happens afterwards."

    So also with agreements like this one – it all depends on what happens afterwards.

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