After the failure even to reach an agreement through proper UN negotiating procedures at Copenhagen, expectations for the Cancun conference were so managed down that merely producing the ‘Cancun Agreements’ has been welcomed as a success. But climate change diplomacy has spawned another fantasy. The fact that those Agreements must lead to further increase in global emissions is described in a rhetoric which will mislead the general public about this vital point.
The crucial issue facing Cancun was to get the developing countries to make concrete reductions - otherwise their emissions will make it impossible to meet global reductions targets, no matter what the developed countries do. I have shown in a previous post that climate change diplomacy has not, as is generally believed, failed to reach a legally binding agreement over emissions. Rather it has extended a legally binding permission to the developing countries to emit as much as they choose. And now, despite woolly rhetoric about ‘cooperative action’ to achieve a ‘global goal’ of ‘deep cuts’, the Agreements forcibly restate this permission. A preamble to para 48 of the main Agreement reaffirms ‘that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs’. Beneath the verbiage, the legal position is as disastrous as it has been ever since the Framework Convention was agreed.
But if nothing has changed in respect of the developing countries, the Agreements may signal a change in the stance of the developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol did impose some concrete reductions on those countries. These are universally dismissed as inadequate and will not, in any case, be made by 2012, when the ‘First Commitment Period’ under the Protocol ends. It is too late to do anything about this, and the Agreements don’t. But, more than this, they say nothing concrete about what is to happen after 2012!
The developed countries are in a quandary. It is dawning on those of them who did not already know it that the Kyoto Protocol has always been a literally irrational policy doomed to fail because it allows the developing countries to emit as they wish. For the developed countries to continue with their own reductions is pointless, and it may be that these are now being gradually dropped. But all of this is being done under a section of the main Agreement disgracefully headed ‘Enhanced Mitigation Action’ which still gestures towards legally binding emissions reductions!
The important thing about the Cancun Agreements is not anything they say about global reductions, which remain impossible. The important thing is the distance between the defective understanding expressed in the Agreements’ rhetoric and realistic policy choices. The Kyoto Protocol is imposing immense costs in order to deliver nothing. Abandonment of the Protocol and thoroughgoing criticism of the policy-making process that could bring us to this position is essential. Instead, the Cancun rhetoric disguises 18 years of fruitless, immense waste by saying we should press on in the same way. One is reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.