It's not perfect, and it's not binding, but international climate negotiators have struck a deal.
The final hours in Cancun were a world of difference from the closing night of the Copenhagen climate talks. Last year's summit closed with drama, confusion, and plenty of unhappy delegations, but the Mexico conference came to an end with multiple standing ovations for the host country and widespread agreement among countries to approve the text of an agreement.
It was after 3 a.m. when the parties adopted the two agreements—one that delays a decision on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and another laying out in more detail a new agreement on climate that includes major emitters like the US and China. Of the 194 countries represented in Cancun, 193 backed the text—which, while it falls short on many fronts, represented "a new era in international cooperation on climate change," said Patricia Espinosa, the minister of foreign affairs for Mexico and president of the summit. Much of what is included in the 32-page agreement for a new climate agreement is based on the spare Copenhagen Accord, formalizing it within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The greatest success may have been that the Mexican organizers, particularly Espinosa, were able to restore faith in the process. India's environment Jairam Ramesh praised Espinosa as a "goddess" for her bringing together the parties around an agreement. "You have not only crafted a balanced agreement but most importantly you have restored the confidence of the international community in multilateralism and the multilateral process at a time when the confidence had hit a historic low," he said. "I believe we have launched a process where the trust deficit has been considerably bridged."
Broadly, the agreement accomplishes most of what observers hoped it would heading in two weeks ago: It records the commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions that developed and developing countries made in Copenhagen, establishes a framework for transparency, sets up a global climate fund with the goal of providing $100 billion in financing to developing countries by 2020, and establishes an initiative aimed at curbing deforestation.
Observers and many parties acknowledged that the progress was modest, and that the emission pledges still fall short of the stated goal of limiting global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Those pledges are not legally binding—nor do they answer the outstanding questions about the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, which binds most industrialized nations to emmissions targets, and which is set to expire in 2012.
Not everyone is entirely happy with the final text. Bolivia objected to the adoption of the agreements, saying it did not require enough of wealthy nations. Ambassador Pablo Solon said his country "is not prepared to sign a document which means an increase of the average temperature which will put more human lives in a situation close to death." But Espinosa moved to adopt the agreement anyway, calling it "one party trying to impose a right of veto upon the will of the conference." Solon objected to the move to override dissent, a departure from the usual practice to accept agreements only with complete consensus. "Today it is Bolivia, tomorrow it could be any other country," said Solon.
Most delegations, however, were eager to walk away with something they could declare a win—including the US and China, a signal that the language in the text bridged differences between the two countries about emissions targets and how they would be tracked by other countries.
"What we have now is text that, while not perfect, is certainly a good basis for moving forward," said US climate envoy Todd Stern. Xie Zhenhua, Stern's Chinese counterpart, gave similarly positive remarks.