Cancun’s Christmas Present

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As Christmas tourists replace COP delegates in the Moon Palace, post-mortems abound. From the World Bank’s standpoint the important question is: what did this really do for the prospects of long term poverty reduction in developing countries?  The answer: potentially, a lot. Earlier this week, this subject was discussed at the Board of the World Bank.


Photo: Flags in front of Moon Palace



Going into Cancun we suggested some stretch-targets that would mark a strong outcome for Cancun for developing countries. Some of these were over-achieved (eg Carbon Markets), some under-achieved (eg agriculture)–but, overall , expectations were more than met. 


In a nutshell:

  • Providers of the $30 billion Fast Start pledge for 2010-2012 formally committed to see this through and to be accountable to UNFCCC for monitoring.
  • Agreement to reform the carbon offset markets (CDM) in the direction that developing countries and the World Bank have been strongly advocating—with agreement to reducing bureaucracy, standardized baselines, and a movement in the direction of programmatic approaches. City-wide programs specifically recognized. 
  • Carbon offsets to continue beyond 2012, whatever happens to the Kyoto Protocol, substantially boosting long term confidence in these markets.
  • Governance structure of the Green Fund agreed, and a detailed design phase laid out. The Fund would channel a “significant” portion of the $100 billion per year longer term funding that is to be mobilized for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, and will have a Board of 24 members, equally split between developed and developing countries, with the World Bank as Interim Trustee. The Design Committee (40 members, with 25 from developing countries) will hold its first meeting by next March.
  • Forests firmly established as a key for addressing climate change, and to be included in a future carbon trading system, with (importantly) measurement of forest carbon to occur at the national level, thus enabling programmatic approaches. Africa can be a big winner, as pointed out by my colleague Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough.
  • An “Adaptation Framework” agreed, with the purpose of ensuring that adaptation no longer remains the poor cousin of mitigation, that countries receive support for capacity-building, and that lessons are learned and transferred.
  • Technology transfer to be supported through a network of regional and country centers, and a global hub. Details remain vague, and financing will need to be clarified, but a useful start.
  • Agriculture and soil recognized as a key both on the adaptation and mitigation side of the agenda, but in the last minute rush to get an agreement, this didn’t receive the airtime it deserved in the formal documents. There was very good progress outside the negotiating halls, as my colleague Inger Andersen points out.


Yes, but what about emissions?


These are very good achievements, but of course they don’t solve the fundamental problem. Nobody made any commitments to deeper reductions in emissions, and—as the recent UNEP Emissions Gap Report Report points out—the informal pledges to date are at best only 60 percent of what needs to be done by 2020 to get us onto a trajectory that will keep global temperature rises to less than 2 degrees.


What Parties in Cancun did deliver on mitigation was:

  • for the first time to formally commit to a maximum increase of global temperature to 2 degrees,
  • to review the adequacy of this target as new scientific evidence on impacts becomes available, with the possibility of reducing it to 1.5 degrees (as advocated strongly by African and Small Island States).
  • to formalize the commitments made after Copenhagen, including those made voluntarily by developing countries (although they are still not binding on anybody), and to review their adequacy by 2015. (They won’t be!)

These add up to precisely the kind of “balanced package” that had been hoped for.


It’s the Spirit that Counts. 

But like all Christmas presents it’s the spirit that counts. And here’s where the Mexican hosts deserve particular credit. Many commentators have rightly noted that trust was restored in the process. But there were other elements  that suggested we may be in a new and more constructive mode. One was the theme of action. (See my last blog). 


Thousands of private sector representatives, financiers, think tanks, and civil society had their own meetings. For them it was a matter of “getting on with it”. The question was whether negotiators could keep up with the real action going on out there. Another strong sense that emerged was that such negotiations are much too important to be left to individual ministries. The Mexican hosts cleverly created a “whole of government” approach, whereby Ministries of Finance, Planning, Energy, Agriculture etc, were encouraged to play a role together with Environment and Foreign Affairs – in turn reinforcing the spirit of action and urgency.


There is a giant agenda for all of us in 2011, and we should expect setbacks along the way. But in the meantime we can take cheer in what was achieved against the odds, and raise our mulled wine glasses to those who worked so hard in Cancun to protect the planet and those who inhabit it.


Happy Holidays! Ho, Ho, Ho!


Andrew Steer

President and CEO, WRI

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