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'False victories won't save the planet'

The Cancun Agreement, hailed by climate secretary Chris Huhne as a “significant turning point”, is in reality a further step down the road to runaway global warming and resulting ecological disaster. Not one of the key points of the agreement signed earlier this month gives any hope for the kinds of radical actions that are urgently needed.

It is even a step back from the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, which committed UN member states to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that would keep warming below 2 degrees. Despite the fact that Cancun includes commitments by China and the US, which were not parties to the Kyoto Protocol, total pledges on emissions reductions would put the world on track for between 2 and 4 degrees of warming by 2050.

At this level, a series of feedback mechanisms will come into play, leading to dangerous, runaway climate change. There is no reason to believe that in the midst of the economic and financial crisis, countries will improve on their current pledges.

The agreement on finance for countries who protect forests is riddled with loopholes. For example, palm oil plantations and other arboreal cash crops, even those planted on land illegally cleared of virgin forest, will qualify for funding. And even worse, it extends the failed market in carbon credits into this crucial area of the world’s eco-system.

The offers of finance for developing countries of $30bn now and $100bn dollars “later”, is contemptible. The $30bn figure is about one year’s average profits for the world’s biggest oil corporation Exxon-Mobil. And whilst the climate fund will be run by a panel of developing countries, rather than the World Bank, what money will they have to distribute?

There was no agreement on who will donate the money, or when. Rich countries will continue to recycle their existing aid commitments or simply fail to live up to their promises, as they did with the Millennium Goals.

A new inspection regime will check that countries are meeting their targets – but given that the targets themselves are voluntary and too little, too late, this is not going to have any impact on rising temperatures.

The commitment to a scientific review of progress after five years is laughable, given that the agreement reached in Cancun ignores entirely the climate science which should be the foundation of these global discussions.

The final fate of the Kyoto Protocol will be decided next year at another climate summit to be held in Durban. The Protocol is the only legally binding agreement on emissions reductions, and it runs out in 2012. It requires emissions cuts from only 37 or the richest industrialised nations – not including China and the US – and it is likely now to wither on the vine. Amongst those countries who ratified it, Japan, Russia and Canada have made clear that they will not support its continuation.

Amidst the cheering and clapping with which delegates greeted agreement in Cancun, just one country stood out against – Bolivia, whose ambassador Pablo Solon denounced the talks as being swamped by diplomacy and nothing to do with real action on climate change. He said:

Unfortunately, a convenient realism has become all that powerful nations are willing to offer, while they ignore scientists’ exhortations to act radically now. Bolivia may have acted unusually by upsetting the established way of dealing with things. But we face an unprecedented crisis, and false victories won’t save the planet. False agreements will not guarantee a future for our children. We all must stand up and demand a climate agreement strong enough to match the crisis we confront.

He is quite right, and if the governments of the world are so in thrall to the needs of the corporations that they cannot deliver such an agreement, then the peoples of the world will have to find another way forward to protect themselves, their families and the eco-system of which we are a part.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
30 December 2010

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