Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cancun Conference and Earth in Peril

Since this blog is devoted to opposing wars and warming, we should observe at once that no mention is made in this report of the impact of wars and preparation for wars on the earth and atmosphere, nor at the end in FotE's mission statement. D

Report back on Cancun Climate Talks
Dear Dick,
Friends of the Earth at Work in Cancun

Thank you for joining with Friends of the Earth to influence the UN climate negotiations that recently concluded in Cancun.

Now that the talks have ended, we want to update you on the outcome of the negotiations and let you know what’s next.

The outcome of the climate talks in Cancun

Our team in Cancun was made up of staff from Friends of the Earth groups on five continents. We urged rich, industrialized countries like the United States, Japan and Canada to commit to aggressive responses to climate change, including rapid pollution reductions. (These rich countries' pollution is overwhelmingly responsible for having caused the climate crisis, so they have a responsibility to lead in solving it.) Unfortunately -- but not unexpectedly -- that’s not what happened in Cancun.

Instead, on the final night, the president of the conference, Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa, introduced negotiating texts that supposedly resolved disagreements between the various countries. In reality, the texts papered over many disagreements, including questions as basic as whether emission reduction commitments should be legally binding.

On the crucial question -- cutting pollution -- the texts fell dramatically short, merely noting individual countries' voluntary emissions pledges. These already-existing pledges are so weak that they could lead to as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit of warming -- far more than what scientists say is acceptable.

The texts also open the door to new “carbon offsets” and other loopholes that allow industrialized countries to avoid making needed pollution reductions at home.

One positive note: the texts establish a Green Climate Fund that will support developing countries in coping with climate change impacts and transitioning to clean economies. This has been a Friends of the Earth priority. (Read a longer analysis of the texts here.)

After Espinosa introduced the texts, Bolivian delegate Pablo Solon asked for time to review and debate them, but Espinosa demanded a take-it-or-leave-it decision. Despite Solon’s objection that there was no consensus, Espinosa said the texts had been approved and would henceforth be known as the “Cancun Agreements.”

Where does this leave us?

Many observers cheered loudly at the adoption (which is still being contested by Bolivia) of the Cancun Agreements. But expectations had been set so low that only a complete abandonment of the UN process would have been seen as a failure.

While many developing countries acquiesced to adoption of the Agreements, this should not be read as a sign of unambiguous support. Several delegates privately expressed disappointment to us. But these delegates were under significant pressure not to object to a weak deal, as they’d seen how foreign aid had been cut from countries that refused to sign up to last year's Copenhagen Accord.

The international negotiations will continue. Many of the disagreements papered over in Cancun will resurface a year from now at the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa.

So what’s next?

The most important thing that those of us in the United States can do to increase the prospects for success in Durban is to move both politics and policy at the domestic level to a better place.

In terms of policy, we need to show the world that we’re serious about reducing our own emissions. Our key task over the next year will be to defend the EPA’s implementation of Clean Air Act protections against climate pollution -- protections that can cut emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources of heat-trapping gases. We will need to defeat Republican attempts to roll back this law.

Also crucial will be our work to phase out taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and other polluters. It’s time for the government to stop handing corporate welfare to the oil, coal, and corn ethanol industries, and it’s time to start investing in real climate solutions instead. We secured the creation of a Green Climate Fund in Cancun. Now we must influence its design over the next year so that it operates on democratic, just, and environmentally sound principles, and the U.S. must ante up and contribute to it.

In terms of politics, we need to build a stronger grassroots movement that supports climate solutions, and we plan to work with supporters like you to accomplish this. We also need to shift the debate so it’s clear to politicians that denying climate science and cozying up to polluting industries is unacceptable, and that advocating for a healthy climate is a pathway to political power.

Additionally, we need to make sure the Obama administration understands that bullying other countries into accepting the lowest common denominator is a recipe for disaster.

There’s a lot to do in the year ahead, but together we can make a difference. Thanks for having joined with us in these fights this year; if you want to further support this work and haven’t yet made an end-of-the-year contribution to Friends of the Earth, you can do so here. (If you’ve already made a contribution, thank you!)

We hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday season.

Nick Berning, Kate Horner and Karen Orenstein, recently returned from Cancun
Friends of the Earth
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Friends of the Earth and our network of grassroots groups in 76 countries are a force for the sustainable and fair use of the Earth’s resources.

Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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