As representatives from nearly 200 nations prepare to gather for United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Cancun this week, a central question looms: Can they achieve enough to keep the negotiations alive?
No one expects the two-week meeting, which begins on Monday, to produce a pact that would commit the nations of the world to curbing climate change. Such an agreement seemed possible a year ago, when the last round of negotiations concluded in Copenhagen.
At that session some of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters struck a deal: Industrialised nations would cut their emissions and by 2020 and would mobilise $100 billion a year in aid for the poorest countries suffering the effects of global warming; in exchange, major developing countries agreed to international scrutiny of their own emissions cuts.
But this agreement – the Copenhagen Accord – has come under fire over the past 12 months as the procedural bickering that has dominated negotiations for years has re-emerged. The collapse of domestic legislation in Congress, coupled with the recent election of dozens of lawmakers opposed to federal limits on greenhouse gases, have further undermined prospects for a meaningful deal.
Still, those most invested in a global climate deal recognise that without some modest progress in Cancun – on issues such as preserving tropical forests, transferring clean technology to developing nations and establishing the framework for international climate aid – the process might collapse altogether. “We cannot afford any more failures,” said Erik Solheim, Norway’s minister for the environment and international development.
Failure, however, remains a real possibility. For months negotiators have argued over whether to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set binding targets for reducing emissions and whose first period is set to expire in 2012 – despite the US never ratifying the agreement, which imposes no emission cuts on greenhouse gas producers like China and India.
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