A Cautionary Tale

The former chief UN Climate negotiator, Yvo de Boer, has called for a pragmatic approach to next week’s conference in Cancun. After the failure of the Copenhagen conference last year to yield any significant progress on collective international action to cut emissions, de Boer is understandably skeptical. For de Boer, Copenhagen failed for two main reasons.

[T]here was no shared understanding of what the conference was supposed to deliver…Some countries argued that the world needed to adopt a new legal treaty under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which would set a series of binding targets for industrialized countries and herald the demise of the Kyoto Protocol. Others expected agreement on a second period under the Kyoto Protocol and a new legal arrangement largely directed at the United States. Still more nations sought only an operational step towards a legal instrument or instruments. In the weeks before the Copenhagen meeting, a growing number of world leaders expressed the need for a political declaration as the best outcome.

The second reason is the widespread fear that ambitious climate-change policy will damage economic growth. Concerns over energy prices, energy security and material scarcity in the face of a ballooning world population have done much to drive global desire for a greener, leaner and meaner economic model. Although many nations pay lip service to this green growth model, most of them, deep in their hearts, are still unsure. In fact, many developing nations fear that the intent of the West is to use climate as an excuse to keep developing nations poor and maintain the current economic status quo.

For de Boer, the lessons for Cancún are: “keep it practical, keep it simple and don’t overreach.” He calls for negotiations to be mindful of the developing world and to explore the merits of green growth. Indeed, de Boer is a realist. He states that “no sensible country will accept a new legal agreement if the economic consequences remain unclear.”

You can read the article in full at Nature News.


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