Mixed emotions and hesitant results are being emitted from the United Nations Climate Change Conference happening now in Cancun, Mexico. While most of the top ministers are yet to arrive, the United States Special Envoy and the Indian Environment Minister are already in the country and ready to begin working on the loose framework of an agreement designed to “hold the increase in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” The agreement at hand is currently 33 pages of potential goals that still require debate and compromise on concrete accomplishment methodology. Everything from emission reduction milestones to the recalculation of financial responsibilities from developed and developing countries is up for debate.
One early positive accomplishment was made public by Brazil on December 1. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced that Brazil’s deforestation rates were the lowest on record since tracking began in 1988, totaling 2,490 miles of deforested land between August 2009 and July 2010. This landmark announcement for Brazil makes it the only developed country presenting emission reduction information at the Conference. Brazil will also announce its new policies to promote sustainable development in the Amazon region while simultaneously generating food, jobs and income.
On the other hand, some smaller nations on the short end of the climate change stick are set to reveal a list of demands in order to fulfill their carbon reduction goals, including approximately $3 billion dollars needed by Kenya alone. Another contingency at the Cancun Conference is the potential extension of the Kyoto Protocol that requires major industrialized nations to cut their carbon emissions between 2008 and 2012. The United States signed the deal in Japan in 1997 but the Senate has refused to ratify it, for fear of causing an economic downturn for the sake of complying with steep emission reduction requirements. The United States is unlikely to agree to an extension of the agreement, while China is pushing uncompromisingly for one.
As always, the delegates to the UN Climate Change Conference strive to create a “balanced package” that will benefit the environment, international relations and the world as a whole. However, such a binding agreement is unlikely to come out of this conference, in part because the United States appears unlikely to place a static cap on its carbon emissions. In stark contrast to last year’s Copenhagen Conference, this convention has lacked the passion of activists filling the streets, group walkouts or coordinated standstills. This year seems almost calm, despite the difficult decisions and compromises yet to be made.