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Participants of the Walk for Climate Change in Cancun on Tuesday, December 7, 2010. Credits: Caritas of Yucatán

Participants of the Walk for Climate Change in Cancun on Tuesday, December 7, 2010.
Credits: Caritas of Yucatán

By Christine Campeau, Climate and Food Security Advisor, Caritas Internationalis 

The sixteenth conference of parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded on 10 December 2010 with Patricia Espinoza, Mexico’s foreign minister welcoming the Cancun Agreements.

The conference has sparked renewed hope in the overall UNFCCC process and, thanks to the dedication of the Mexican Presidency, restored credibility in its transparent working methods.

It also showed the willingness of governments to work together under the UNFCCC framework – a place where the voices and concerns of the poorer countries carry equal weight to the richer ones.

After two weeks of intensive negotiations by almost two hundred countries, the major achievement of COP16 was the creation of a Green Climate Fund. This fund will receive and distribute up to $100 billion a year by 2020, becoming a major channel for the financial assistance that will help nations cope with negative effects of climate change.

A standing committee has also been established to help mobilize finances for the Fund so that it does not sit empty. A second task of this committee is to ensure that, once the funds become available, the delivery of the funds are measurable, reported and verified.

In the meantime, while the Green Climate Fund is being set up, the $30 billion in fast start finance that was pledged in Copenhagen last year is being distributed.

Although Japan and Russia initially objected to a second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, the possibility of extending it past 2012 still remains.  Questions surrounding the Protocol’s legal framework must be resolved soon, however, to avoid a gap between commitment periods.

As for mitigation targets, the Cancun Agreement recognized the need for global temperature to stay below 2C, and to review the science on reducing the target to 1.5C. Despite the great importance of these targets, the process remains unclear, as does the way to reduce the gigatonne gap (8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide) that stand between the pledges committed and the reduction target.

Progress was made in the negotiating track dealing with reducing emissions from deforestation and land degradation (REDD), with an agreement to try to eliminate tropical deforestation. On closer inspection of the agreement, however, the safeguards are weaker than expected and may contain several possible loopholes. Nonetheless, the agreed text answers a numbers of questions that have been on the table since the Bali Action Plan in 2007. Also, negotiators still need to figure out how it will be funded, as well as agree on how to compensate countries to protect their forests, reimburse forest people, and protect biodiversity.

The Cancun Agreement enables the issues that remain in play to be resolved at COP17 in Durban, South Africa in December 2011. It has rebuilt trust and demonstrated a true willingness to work together and share knowledge.

A good example of this was in the production of a technology mechanism that will identify the needs of countries and coordinate international efforts at responding to these needs. This is a significant step forward in the sharing of technology on a global level, hopefully giving access to the innovation to those who need to most.

Yet significant work is still required throughout this year to be able to reach a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5C. Countries are still falling short of what science says is needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change so they need to scale up emissions targets.

The list of actions is clear but with limited targets outlined to achieve them.

While we welcome the creation of a Green Climate Fund, the level of finance needs to be increased and long-term funding needs to be secured and additional to ODA (Official Development Assistance).

With the groundwork for an agreement in place and harmony reached on some important decisions that will support additional talks, words such as ‘hope’ and ‘progress’ have returned to the negotiating table.

Let’s use this momentum and put our faith back in our world leaders that they will continue to take concrete steps to ensure climate justice for all. Let’s support them in their attempts to develop national plans to curb green-house gas emissions and then encourage them to feed this momentum back into the international process.

We have a shared duty to protect the Earth’s natural resources. Let’s work together towards finding sustainable solutions to reduce the effects of climate change.