Guest Post: Cancun is NOT a stepping stone!

By Thea Whitman, from the Canadian Youth Delegation

Everyone says it: expectations are lower here in Cancún than they were last year in Copenhagen. We aren’t looking for a legally-binding treaty – we’re looking for building blocks, or stepping stones on the way to one, maybe next year in South Africa, maybe later. The collective trauma that was Copenhagen took its toll – on activists, on negotiators, on the whole process. The CYD has 4 returning members this year, as compared to the usual 15 or so. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC resigned, Michael Martin, Canada’s old lead negotiator switched positions, and Jim Prentice, Canda’s previous environment minister moved on before talks began here in Cancún. Not that each of these can be linked directly to Copenhagen’s disappointments, but they are a symbol of the shift we’ve seen.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say that the new blood has breathed much life into the negotiations. A week and a half of negotiations have gone by, and it’s hard to point to where the most progress has been made, partly because it seems like there is very little that has been done at all. It’s not like serious regressions are being made – days have passed where no Fossil of the Day awards have been given out – it’s just that negotiations are very, very slow. The fact that almost every single meeting this week has been closed to civil society doesn’t help. Tired from being on a bus for as many as two hours every day instead of engaging with the negotiations, frustrated by the cuts to many delegation’s numbers, leaving us lopsided in our approach to the negotiations, and uninspired by a general lack of leadership at these negotiations, it’s been a tough conference for those pushing for strong climate action.

What makes this all so hard to accept, though, is that climate change is a more important issue than ever. It’s so hard for me to understand how, when the deadline for a new agreement had been set for 2009, under the Bali Action Plan, we’ve now pushed it to or beyond 2011. The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires in 2012. Now, there’s no way a new agreement could be in place in time to make up this gap. The voluntary pledges for emission reductions under the non-legally binding Copenhagen Accord fall woefully short of what is needed to keep global warming below 2°C, which is the stated goal of the Accord (and would still result in grievous impacts). It makes me feel sick to think that, in 2013, 16 years after the UNFCCC was ratified, there might be no international agreement in place to limit greenhouse gas emissions, when the IPCC suggests that global emissions should be peaking – peaking! – by 2015 in order to have a chance to keep global warming below 2°C.

Cancún should not be a stepping stone!  This year’s conference in Cancún should be doing what Copenhagen was supposed to do last year: establish a fair, ambitious, and legally binding agreement. Short-sighted politics, disconnected from climate science, disconnected from those whose lives will be affected by climate change (read: all of us), and disconnected from principles of justice or equity, are driving these negotiations, and driving those who are happy to call Cancún a stepping stone. Let’s just say that those who are willing to step on Cancún likely won’t hesitate to step on a lot more.