Coates in Cancún: agreement a good outcome

This is Barry Coates of Oxfam NZ’s sixth report from COP16 in Cancún: a deal is reached…

It’s midnight on Friday – so close to a done deal. I am sitting in a conference room with hundreds of people watching the end game. The contrast to the last hours of Copenhagen could not be more stark.

Although it’s not everything we need, the agreement on the table puts the UN negotiations back on track after the shambles of Copenhagen last year. Expectations were lowered in the run-up to Cancun and completing the final agreement was never a possibility. And for much of the conference, there was a distinct possibility that the process may fall apart, particularly when Japan announced that they could not sign up to a 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. But, unlike Copenhagen, the dynamics were positive, the process was transparent and negotiations were skilfully steered by the Patricia Espinosa, the Mexico Minister for the Environment, as chair.

So tonight, when it became obvious that a deal had been crafted, there was such a palpable feeling of relief amongst the delegates and observers that the chair got two standing ovations, the first for three minutes. The speeches were mostly upbeat, although the Bolivian Climate Change Ambassador complained that governments had not gone far enough in agreeing emissions cuts. He is right, but for almost all the governments, the deal on the table is a good step forward, and all that could be achieved.

It has been difficult to call. The emissions reduction pledges in the Copenhagen Accord were merely noted in this Cancun agreement. They fall woefully short of the level of ambition required to avoid dangerous climate change. The pledges add up to 12-18 per cent below 1990 levels to be achieved by 2020. This is way short of the required level of 40 per cent.

However, the good news is that, for the first time in the agreement, there is recognition of the inadequacy of the pledges, and there is a process to raise the level of ambition. The agreement specifies a target range of 25-40 per cent emissions cuts for the wealthy countries (drawn from the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC), and a process for clarification, analysis and comparison. This is a potential way to raise the level of ambition, but there will need to be a serious increase in political will amongst the rich nations for this to happen.

Amongst the highlights from the conference are the establishment of a Green Climate Fund (couldn’t they have come up with a snappier title?!), an Adaptation Committee to provide learning and guidance on adapting to changing climates, a framework for supporting clean technology, an agreement to reduce deforestation, and a process for reviewing the global goal of maintaining global temperature rise below 2°C, specifically to look at a pathway to keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C. This is crucial for the survival of low lying communities and islands, including our Pacific neighbours.

The structure, governance and design of the Green Climate Fund includes ensuring that a significant share of the money for adaptation will be channelled through the Fund, and calls for a balance of mitigation and adaptation (to redress the Adaptation Gap – the past situation where only 10 per cent of climate funding has been devoted to adaptation). It was disappointing that discussions on filling the Fund have not gone far. There was no agreement on the proposal for the most promising source of funding – levies on shipping and aviation fuels.

Considering the expectations for Cancun, this is a good outcome. It restores confidence in the multilateral system, and the UN system in particular, which is much needed. This is a global problem and it needs a global agreement.

But 24 hours ago, we had real doubts that they would be able to put such a complex deal together. We were preparing ourselves for a collapse or a bad deal. But the deal was done through skilful chairing, not only by the Mexican chair, but also by the government Ministers acting as facilitators, including the New Zealand Minister, Tim Groser. It also drew on a far more constructive and flexible negotiating approach from most countries, with the exception of a few including the US, Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

The US in particular, blocked agreement to other elements of the agenda until they were able to get the key element they needed for domestic political purposes – a system of monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) for the emissions reductions in developing countries. The target was China, but fortunately the Cancun conference was spared the sharp disagreements between the US and China that had been evident in Tianjin two months earlier. The irony is that China has entered its pledges in 5 year development plans and has a very good record of implementing what it commits to do – in fact, their record of compliance is far better than legislation in many countries.

On the final evening, it became apparent that a deal was possible and the mood of the delegates lifted. Applause and even cheering broke out. Now the hard work starts. Overcoming the really difficult issue of comparability between the countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol and the US (which hasn’t) will return as a challenge. So will the insistence that larger developing countries take on the same obligations as the US, even though the mandate for the negotiations clearly identifies a difference based on per capita emissions and historical responsibility for the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Despite their initial reluctance to agree to a 2nd commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, Japan agreed to go along with the deal on the table. But this is not the end of the process. The compromise required all the developed and developing countries to accept an agreement where the US is treated leniently on the issue of compliance for their emissions reductions. This leniency must not be allowed to undermine the integrity of emissions targets.

Some of the most difficult challenges lie ahead. We need to collectively build the political will for countries to accept far deeper emissions cuts and accelerate the pace of negotiations to secure a fair, ambitious and binding global deal.

The warning signs are there. While in Cancun, NASA confirmed that 2010 has been the hottest year on record, and the past ten years the hottest decade. Last week’s massive floods in Colombia and neighbouring countries are the kinds of impacts predicted by climate models.

Further delays will risk worsening natural disasters – droughts, heat waves and intense cyclones – as well as melting glaciers, further sea level rises and the rapid acidification of our oceans. The impacts are falling most heavily on those least able to cope – women, men and children living in vulnerable communities in the developing world. Cancun may have put the climate talks back on track, but now we need them to be concluded quickly and followed up by urgent action.

It is now 2.10am. The delegates are tired and so are we, the passionate NGOs from around the world, the social movements, women’s organisations, trade unions, academics, faith groups, the dedicated few amongst the media who stayed up, and the concerned citizens who have been pushing for a good deal in Cancun. The final plenary is about to start. Bolivia is still raising concerns about the process and the lack of ambition, but in the end they joined the consensus.

At 3.32am the Cancun deal was agreed.

69 thoughts on “Coates in Cancún: agreement a good outcome”

  1. Its a big relief that they have come to some sort of accord but will the countries do any thing when the delegates get home? What are we going to do in NZ? Will we shut Huntley? Stop digging coal? Watch this space but don’t hold your breath.

  2. “there was such a palpable feeling of relief…”
    that they have agreed to keep on meeting at plush locations
    “the Green Climate Fund includes ensuring that a significant share of the money for adaptation will be channelled through the…”
    pockets of those present
    “The delegates are tired and so are… ”
    the world’s taxpayers at paying for being lied to that a flood in Columbia is our fault.

      1. If you want to stand in the middle of a field tearing up $100 bills in the halucinatory belief that it will restrict global temperatures to less than 2 deg above the imaginary “level” they were at prior to industrialisation, be my guest. Just keep your fingers out of my pockets.

          1. That’s right. There is absolutely no reason why NZ households should have money ripped out of their budget, when no other country on this side of the world is inflicting an ETS on its citizenry.

            And even Britain’s Royal Society has radically downgraded their pronouncements about the certainty of CAGW:

            “Observations are not yet good enough to quantify, with confidence, some aspects of the evolution of either climate forcing or climate change, or for helping to place tight bounds on the climate sensitivity…hitherto unknown aspects of the climate and climate change could emerge and lead to significant modifications in our understanding”

            1. Yes, things are looking much, much worse. People like you point blank refuse to take responsibility for their actions, so we have no chance of mitigation. Adaptation it is, then.

              Do you have any children, Wrathall? Might as well smother them now. You have taken away their future, so keeping them alive is just torture.

            2. CTG, you are suggesting that the Earth’s climate will be influenced by Steve’s opinions, and as a result, he should kill his children.

              Riiiiiight. Good to know there are some balanced opinions here.

            3. There is absolutely no reason why NZ households should have money ripped out of their budget, when no other country on this side of the world is inflicting an ETS on its citizenry.

              Of course there is; to encourage adaptation and encourage green growth, not sooty oil-fueled growth.

              It’s regrettable that the burden has to go on the nation’s general ledger rather than be placed on emitters immediately, but that’s a problem with the politics, especially fueled by deniers like yourself, who sow confusion and disinformation. This means lobby groups for dirty industries get their arguments swallowed to by a misinformed population.

              So please, blame yourself and people like yourself for that situation.

              If you want it off your own tax bill, join the effort to get it put on the dirty emitters’ tax bill. It’s got to end up somewhere.

      2. The UN wanted 1.5% of GDP allocated to the “green fund” This would have meant about $2500 per family per annum for every family in NZ every year.

        As it happens, they “only” got $100 billion per year.

        Are you happy to pay that Thomas? Bear in mind that most families won’t be able to afford it, but never mind, we can close a few hospitals and schools.

        The developing world will get a few useless windmills, solar panels and limosines in exchange.

        I certainly would be VERY HAPPY to support such a scheme, would you Thomas?

  3. Besides 2010 being the warmest year on record, November, despite being cool in northern Europe, turned out to be the globally the hottest November on record:

    November brought frigid temperatures to certain areas of Europe. But data, compiled by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, show that, globally, last month was the warmest November ever recorded, nearly 0.96ËšC warmer than the 1951 to 1980 average for the month.

    Source :

      1. The FIRST SENTENCE of the link John:
        “The 2010 meteorological year, which ended on 30 November, was the warmest in NASA’s 130-year record,”
        But you seem incapable of following any suggested reading.

        1. Dimwit! And you expect to be taken seriously?

          How do you expect me to take you seriously?

          It is the coldest winter in the UK since records began, way back to the 1600’s and Thomas tells us it is a “bit cool” in Europe and that 2010 is the warmest year on record.

          Are you taking the piss?

          1. John, if you have the slightest interest in the real science you might take a look at this newly posted statement from James Hansen et al, with links to the full scientific paper currently in the press or to its very readable summary.

            1. I don’t think one off weather events are a good indication of wider climate trends, warming or cooling.

              Interesting that there is a large number of significant weather events recently that are related to changes in circulation patterns and the jet stream. Examples being the Pakistani flood, Russian heat wave and this current cold spell. Some may claim that a warming climate creates larger high pressure zones and increases jet stream blocking events. Others may argue the jet stream is dominated by randomness. And others argue that low solar activity causes increased blocking events.

              Solar activity very recently surged :


              But Nasa report all the clouds will miss Earth.

            2. One week – big deal. The UK – a tiny proportion of the planet’s area. Even if much of Europe ends up having a cold winter, it won’t necessarily mean that the global average will drop much.

              Bastardi is a poor meteorologist with a lousy forecasting record. It’s a sign of desperation to nail colours to his mast.

            3. Yes it is cold in the UK.
              Have you looked at this JD?

              You must admit that the UK and northern Europe is obviously the exception here, surrounded by vast areas where the temperature is exceptionally warm for the time.

              AGW is distorting the weather patterns. This is all well within the predicted outcomes of a changing climate.

            4. Yes, you are right, the UK is a tiny area and the coldest winter in hundreds of years is just a one off,
              as was last years winter which went on for months.
              The cold weather reported from China is also a one off, as is the snow in Damascus and Israel,
              The cold in South America last year was also a one off, as were the snow storms in the US this week.
              The freezing temperatures in Mongolia were also a one-off last year.

              Anyway, Joe Bastardi can’t read a graph, therefore all of this information is invalid and we should ignore it.

            5. …and how much more effectively can one run a ‘this chain of events can hardly be coincidental’ argument in our favour? And the overall statistics favour us, not you cherry-pickers…

              A warmer, more energetic atmosphere is more volatile. More water vapour in the atmosphere due to warming means more precipitation. In cold conditions this means snow. According to US National Climate Data Center report from 2006

              Results for the November–December period showed that most of the United States had experienced 61%– 80% of the storms in warmer-than-normal years. Assessment of the January–February temperature conditions again showed that most of the United States had 71%–80% of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years. In the March–April season 61%–80% of all snowstorms in the central and southern United States had occurred in warmer-than-normal years…. Thus, these comparative results reveal that a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more snowstorms than in 1901–2000. Agee (1991) found that long-term warming trends in the United States were associated with increasing cyclonic activity in North America, further indicating that a warmer future climate will generate more winter storms.

              …and here we are in what will probably be the warmest year on record (the warmest 12 month period on record certainly passed this year), and the predictions are fulfilled.

    1. Warning before reading the below: I have not read the link you post. Please do not insult me if the answer is in that link. Please only reply if you want to. Do not get angry at me for wasting your time. If this has been explained on this website before I also apologise. I am just trying to learn something.

      How do you explain the difference to this plot? Seems to me the satellite records would be more accurate than the ground based thermometers that may be influenced by human changes to the local climate. In fact, any difference between the ground based record and satellite record could be used as evidence of an urban heat island.

      That is not to say 2010 wasn’t a warm year by any measure. Only that the most accurate record to use is probably the satelite one which shows slightly less warming.

      1. Why is the satellite measure the most accurate? It’s a couple of hundred km above the thing it’s trying to measure. The ground-based stations are measuring directly, and have been shown to be very accurate – especially since the project or Wattever it was confirmed that the results from the highest quality stations matched the results from full set.

        Better to use an averaged set or something if in doubt. If you look at the other data sets – GISTEMP, UAH, etc, you see more of an upwards trend at the end.

        1. Why is the satellite measure the most accurate?

          Because it actually measures the brightness of atmospheric oxygen as a proxy for temperature, not actual temperature. Also it requires computer modelling and complex calculations to allow for orbital drift , biases between the different microwave sounding units used, and the top down view through the atmosphere corrupting the signal received by sensors.

          And virtually every “skeptic” believes that the only good data is raw data, and computer models can’t be trusted. Hey, wait a minute!!!…………….


        2. This is just hilarious. You are so ignorant.
          “its a couple of hundred kms above”

          “Ground based stations have shown to be accurate”

          Oh dear, rotfl indeed.

        3. Just to amplify DW’s point a little, “satellite temperatures” are probably the most “artificial” of all temperature records. The data from the satellite sounding units have to be processed through the same radiation transfer code that climate models use to calculate the warming effects of CO2. They are subject to numerous biases (orbital decay, for example) that have to be cleaned up before temperature series can be constructed. Their principal advantage is truly global coverage.

      2. What difference exactly are you asking about? If you are trying to suggest that 1998 was warmer than 2010, then you are looking at the wrong graph. Try this for a start. This uses rolling 12 month averages, so that each year’s annual average (what Thomas was talking about), is the point from July. 1998 and 2010 look at lot more similar now.

        Then again, RSS is not the only satellite measurement, is it? We can add in UAH as well. As you see, UAH doesn’t think that 1998 was quite as hot as RSS says.

        Taking away RSS, so we can UAH more clearly, we can that 2010 seems to be galloping up there – one data point left to go for the 2010 series, so it may yet end up higher.

        Also, a comparison against surface-based measurements shows that the satellite measurements seem to consistently overestimate the peaks and troughs associated with ENSO short term variability.

        Finally, given that all four of the main source have subtle differences, perhaps it is best to use a composite index. In this graph the difference between the 1998 peak and the 2010 peak is well within the margin of error, so 2010 and 1998 are tied for the hottest years. Darn it, there’s never an ice age around when you want one.

        1. Tamino also talks about the discrepancy between satellite and land-based measures of El Niño/La Niña fluctuations. He reckons that the tropospheric response to ENSO is more pronounced than that at the surface.

          Just reinforces that it is best not to rely on any one particular measurement, rather than declaring that the one measure which backs up your point of view is the “most accurate”.

          1. Thanks for the reply. All good points. The 12 month mean mistake was a simple but easy one to make.

            Also, I never declared anything. I said “That is not to say 2010 wasn’t a warm year by any measure. Only that the most accurate record to use is probably the satelite one which shows slightly less warming.”

            Agree 2010 is warm on a global scale, compared to the historical record, and the cold temps in one area in one week do not invalidate this.

            1. I’m sorry. So much of your original post was taken up with whining about what a martyr you are, I couldn’t actually work out what your question was.

              What exactly was your question?

    2. I see that the UK are now predicting a cold snap that could last for a month and might be as cold as the winter of 1962/3,

      There’s also a state of emergency in Ontario because of the snow storms there

      Naturally, I know that all this is caused by global warming, as do all the people of these countries. That is why “global warming” is now the slang term for snow.

      1. John, may I remind you that I referred you to some real science on this question, and I see sailrick has done the same. You’ve given no indication that you’ve read what we’ve referred you to. It’s much easier to link to newspaper accounts of snow storms and resort to sarcasm, but it makes you look silly. Uninstructed intuition is often not the best guide to complex questions. Why don’t you go away and apply yourself to what the Nasa scientists have to say.

        1. OK Brian, I have read The Wise Words of The Scientists, and it is all clear now.

          I can rest in my bed knowing that the cold weather is caused by global warming, and that we need to continue shutting down our economies and giving all our money to the developing nations.

          I am so glad there is common sense here.

          You are my rock, Bryan.

          1. Either you fail to understand the reams of explanation already offered to you – in which case you’re a 24-carat specimen of stupidity – or you are simply a vexatious troll. Either way – shut up and disappear, you megabore.

            1. RW, why do you assume that I do not understand the explanations given?

              Which part of what exists between your earlobes brings you to this conclusion?

            2. Could you pass Logic 101? I doubt it. It was an “either….or…” statement. However, your reply confirms that both branches apply (non-exclusive OR in this case).

  4. This all reminds me of High School, when it’s Sunday night at 10:30, the essay is due in the morning, and I haven’t started to read the book yet. Then, pull an all-niter, and turn in the paper late.

    Deadlines? Love em! So in Cancun the World Community tacitly agreed to wait until AFTER global temp increase passes 2 C before we begin any substantive action. I wonder what our excuse will be?

    1. Sonny, it’s Barry Coates who wrote the blog, which I agree with you in appreciating highly. I’ve changed your “Brian” to “Barry”. My name heads the post because I did the publishing while Gareth is away for a few days and the programme puts it there.

  5. Just one example as a counter to that tedious cherry-picker JD: He cites South American coldness in winter 2009. No mention of the excess warmth over the north-eastern part of the continent, which almost annulled the former. A much more striking example was in winter 2007, when the “western” media made much of reports of severe coldness in Argentina and Chile. I was in Brazil during that time, and almost the whole country was experiencing a large warm anomaly. Later checking showed that the Brazilian warmth swamped the southern anomaly. Strangely enough, nothing was said about that at all in the same media.

    Cherry-picking JD – the inevitable fallback position of denialists, who know they are losing.

    1. You mistake me for a denialist.

      We all know that the extreme cold weather seen over Europe is caused by global warming. The idiots in Britain who are complaining about the cold are sceintifically illiterate morons who cannot grasp this simple concept

      When they have to call the army in to clear the snow, they get confused and think that global warming is not happening.

      Everyone in Britain is very happy that their money is being spent in Africa to help the poor people their get important windmills and solar panels and Limosines for their leaders.

      The students are really happy that their fees are being tripled to help pay for this. Recently, they came out to celebrate with gusto, by attacking poliece officers and destroying police property. It was just youthful high-jinx!

      The Scottish people are so happy that lovely windfarms are being erected over the boring Scottish countryside. The target of 80% seems a little far away as the windmills only supplied 0.2% during the recent cold snap, and power had to be imported from France using their nuclear supplies at high prices, but that’s just teething trouble.
      We only need to multiply production 400 times, and of course that will be easy in such a resourceful country! And it will make the famous highlands look lovely too!

      1. Silly me I thought that their fees were being tripled because the banks scewed up and the UK government had to bail them out. Now I know it was the building of wind farms that ruined all those western economies.

        1. Yes Doug you are right. The debt bubble has stuffed up Europe, the US, and us too probably.

          But when you have 4 trillion pounds of debt, increasing foreign aid by 2.9 billion a year seems a tad extravagant to some.

          Not me of course, I know that money is virtual (Thomas told me) and we can go to Bank of Toytown to print some more when we run out. I know also that we can just close down hospitals and schools to pay for the green fund.

          Thsi is very important to me and I intend to spread these joyous words across the country.

      2. We all know that the extreme cold weather seen over Europe is caused by global warming. The idiots in Britain who are complaining about the cold are sceintifically illiterate morons who cannot grasp this simple concept

        Finally, something we can agree on.

  6. Doug, alas no
    “the Government’s own projection as to how much it will save is that the funding of university tuition will be cut by £2.9 billion by 2014. As it happens, £2.9 billion is the sum ring-fenced, by the same public spending review, to be given to developing countries to help them fight global warming with windmills and solar panels”

        1. Frankly, your opinion of leading climate scientists is of little interest to me, as it is unlikely to be objective. The same can be aid for Booker’s presentation of economic data…

    1. Would they have had to cut support for students if the banks hadn’t wasted all those assets on dodgy deals? If the banks had been prudent the UK govt would now have the money to both fund education and fund 3rd world development.

      Now we have to deal with consequences of a warming world within a constrained global economy. The free market heroes have made it that much more difficult.

    1. I don’t think you can dismiss “the only game in town” quite so lightly. “The Game” already has an awful lot of players, and a bagful of rules. Starting from scratch might in theory be a good idea, but the counsel of perfection is seldom actually feasible.

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