“Confidence is back,” announced Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon at the conclusion of climate talks in Cancun at 3 am. “Hope has returned.”
Restoring hopes crushed by the collapse last year of Copenhagen’s climate negotiations, the nations of the world have rediscovered consensus on addressing global warming pollution tonight in Cancun. The top challenge for negotiators has been to figure out a successor framework to the Kyoto Protocol, which failed to set limits on the pollution of the United States (because the Senate refused to ratify the treaty) and nations like China and India (as developing countries, they are exempt from Kyoto’s binding targets). In Copenhagen, these nations sacrificed consensus and multilateralism to forge a new framework for cleaning their economies.
As hosts of the 2010 conference, the Mexican government had to not only bring parties together to come to agreement on policy, but also to restore trust in global governance — the concept that the world’s nations can work together as one on the problems that face all of humanity. (Not to be confused, unless you’re Glenn Beck or Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), with the entirely different concept of global government.) Could the nearly 200 nations of the world, from tiny islands to billion-person states, from oil-rich sheikdoms to Scandinavian states, trust each other enough to agree on a deal that included all nations?
Late Friday night, the representatives of these varied nations chose hope. With a roar of applause overwhelming one dissenting voice, they strongly endorsed a comprehensive document crafted under the leadership of the conference’s president Patricia Espinosa and the executive secretary Christiana Figueres. Countries from every corner of the world noted the mortal threat from destroying our atmosphere through fossil-fuel pollution and supported this international agreement:
South Korea: “We were warned, if we cannot achieve a balanced outcome, we’d be blamed by our children. I believe we have risen to the challenge.”
Kenya: “We plead with all to allow Cancun to send a message of hope to the world.”
Argentina: “It is really dangerous to delay any further. The compromises are reasonable, and the costs of any delay are geometric.”
China: “The government of China will act in a fully responsible manner to the people of China and the people of the world.”
United Arab Emirates: “This is a deal that works, and that works for us.”
Maldives: “I certainly speak from a country whose survival depends on these negotiations. I don’t think we should waste more time to negotiate more text. It’s about time we move on to the next stage.”
Bolivia’s delegation led the resistance to the Cancun compact, after a week of its president, Evo Morales, acting as the socialist champion of the world’s poor, especially the international peasant movement, Via Campesina. They emphasized the insufficiency of the agreement’s pollution goals and questioned the role of the World Bank, among other concerns. The legitimacy of their arguments was weakened by the fact that the countries they purported to be defending — the vulnerable nations of Africa and the small island states — unanimously support the agreement, despite its imperfection. Bolivia’s intransigence was initially supported by Cuba and the petrostates Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, but in the final moment adoption, it stood alone in opposition.
The Cancun compacts are the first real step toward building an international system that involves all global warming pollution — not just that produced by the rich nations governed by the Kyoto Protocol. With one agreement that allows for the future development of the Kyoto Protocol system, the other establishes an international Green Climate Fund to be managed by the World Bank, and enacts mechanisms to fight deforestation and deploy clean technology in the developing world. Unfortunately, the review of the adequacy of these agreements with respect to the scientific threat is set to conclude in 2015 — even though the current targets were set in 2007 and are already out of date.
The first lesson of the Cancun talks is that the governments of the world can in fact work together on global warming, even though decoupling civilization from greenhouse pollution is a herculean task. However, the second lesson is that their leadership only gets humanity so far. Only the full mobilization of the present generation can overcome the institutional barriers to change and protect our fragile civilization from the raging climate system our pollution has created. The Cancun compact has restored hope around the world, but now the actual work has to begin.