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Climate agreement reached in Cancun

Ministers meeting in Cancun, Mexico reached a series of agreements that include measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a goal of limiting the global average temperature increase to 2°C, greater protections for forests, and a new U.N.-administered climate fund finance mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries. While the “Cancun Agreement” doesn’t set any binding targets, it lays the groundwork for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

“Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres in a statement. “Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause. They have shown that consensus in a transparent and inclusive process can create opportunity for all.”

In total 26 agreements were reached, including language that advances the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism, which aims to compensate developing countries for protecting their forests. Although many of the details around REDD+ are still on the table, the text includes social and environmental ‘safeguards’ and creates space for interim “sub-national” projects nested under national monitoring and reporting systems. The agreement does not address whether market-based mechanisms (e.g. carbon trading) can be used to finance REDD.

John O. Niles, director of the Tropical Forest Group, a forest policy group, said that while the outlook for market-based REDD remains uncertain, the agreement is a step forward for forest protection.

“The Cancun Agreement includes new decisions that encourage donors and the private sector to continue deploying billions of dollars for countries that lower rates of deforestation,” Niles said in a statement. “These decisions include clear signals that investing in tropical forest conservation will one day pay off.”

Lars Løvold, Director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, a group that has campaigned for careful safeguards in REDD, was also cautiously optimistic about the forest deal.

Amazon rainforest canopy. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

“If we compare the decision here on forests with what was on the table two years ago, important progress has been made,” said Løvold. “The decision reflects the growing understanding that a broad and participatory approach, based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and the many vital functions of forests, is needed to prevent deforestation and forest degradation.”

The Cancun Agreement also opened the door for peatlands restoration as a climate change mitigation strategy, a move welcomed by Wetlands International.

“There is great potential for reducing emissions from peatlands,” said Susanna Tol from Wetlands International. “Countries have now recognised this.”

“Negotiators were able in Cancun to come to an informal agreement on how to approach peatlands.”

Beyond forests and peatlands, the Cancun Agreement advanced on several other controversial areas, including a climate finance mechanism. Parties agreed to create a Green Climate Fund, which will mobilize and administer up to $100 billion a year by 2020. The fund will be run by the U.N. — not the World Bank — under the supervision of a board with “equal representation” from developed and developing countries. The fund would include technology transfer to help develop economies “leapfrog” a carbon-intensive development path. The Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism will be strengthened to photo investments and technology into green emission reduction projects in the developing world.

Developing countries also committed to bi-annual reporting of their actions to reduce emissions. For industrialized countries, parties agreed to avoid a gap in emissions reductions efforts and monitoring between the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol and whatever treaty succeeds it at the end of 2012.

The UNFCCC’s Figueres said the accord represents a toward collective action on climate change.

“Governments have given a clear signal that they are headed towards a low-emissions future together, they have agreed to be accountable to each other for the actions they take to get there, and they have set it out in a way which encourages countries to be more ambitious over time,” she said. “This is not the end, but it is a new beginning. It is not what is ultimately required but it is the essential foundation on which to build greater, collective ambition.”

Cancun agreements

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