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jan11 1b


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The 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties (or COP 16) held in Cancún, Mexico, was surprisingly fruitful. The conference came to an end on the 11th of December 2010 after nearly two weeks of negotiations, exhibitions and meetings, the outcomes of which were mostly extremely positive – a stark comparison to the failure of COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009.

COP 16 ended on a high note, reaching an historic deal on climate change that commits all major economies to greenhouse gas cuts. The deal has been hailed as restoring faith in the multilateral UN process, but will not reduce temperatures as much as scientists say is needed. This pushes many of the most important decisions to future negotiations.

The deal, which took four years of negotiations to reach, should lead to less deforestation, the transfer of technology to developing countries and the establishment of a yearly fund, potentially worth up to $100bn, to help countries adapt to climate change.

On the final day of the conference, a package of decisions officially named the Cancún Agreements acknowledges – for the first time in a United Nations document – that global temperatures must not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

According to the document, global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be adequate and meet that 2-degree target. This is crucial because, as the United Nations Environment Programme concluded in a report released in Cancún, the voluntary emissions pledges made under last year’s Copenhagen Accord will only get the world about 60 percent of the way towards the reductions needed to stay below 2 degrees.

Scientists have warned that a temperature increase above 2 degrees will have catastrophic consequences: rising sea levels, disruptive weather patterns; and changing agricultural conditions will cause mass migration, food shortages, a rise in epidemics and a myriad of other challenges.

Governments will now be required to report their greenhouse gas inventories annually to ensure they do as they say, as the Cancún Agreements also officially recognize the emissions reduction targets submitted so far by dozens of countries. Both the United States and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, have submitted targets.

Regarding forests, decisions to halt deforestation were also made in Cancún with the formal establishment of a United Nations led scheme known as REDD+. Under REDD — short for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — industrialized countries will channel huge sums of money to developing nations to help them protect rain forests. This decision has been met with mixed reactions, however, as indigenous groups are still struggling to get their voices heard with regards to the forests and their rights.

Indigenous leaders in several countries are voicing increasing concern over the lack of meaningful plans to address land and resource rights in REDD readiness planning. There is hope that these issues will be tackled at next year’s COP 17.

Logging and destruction of trees account for about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, the UNFCCC estimates. Successful efforts to thwart deforestation would therefore have a direct impact on world temperatures.

The forest measure “did not include everything we hoped for, but provides a sound foundation for moving a credible REDD process forward and an agenda for the work ahead,” said Gordon Shepherd, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate Initiative.

“Cancún has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said December 11 at the conclusion of the two-week summit.

“Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause. They have shown that consensus in a transparent and inclusive process can create opportunity for all,” she said as delegates to the conference erupted in applause.

The next international climate meeting (COP 17) will be held in Durban, South Africa in November 2011.


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