Image from COP16 website (cc2010.mx)

So Cancun wasn’t a complete disaster. After the catastrophic Copenhagen Conference of 2009, nobody was expecting any real deal to come out of COP16. But there you have it, 193 countries reached an agreement on emission reductions, forest protection, a green climate fund, the transfer and sharing of technological advancement and knowledge, and a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius for the planet. Unfortunately, no deal was reached to force countries (developed and developing) to commit to official and internationally binding targets for emission reductions – basically the most important part of climate talks all the way back to the first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 or the First World Climate Conference held in 1979 in Geneva. And so the question remains, what really happened in Cancun and is this deal a clever exercise in misleading the masses or a significant step into a better future?

If you are to measure success by the ability to avoid complex issues while pretending to resolve them, one must conclude that the Cancun Climate Conference was one of the most productive and successful of the last 15 years. Participants agreed not to agree on important and time sensitive issues, leaving emission reductions targets and the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol on the table to be discussed in the next round of climate talks in Durban next year. At the same time participants agreed to agree on lighter issues such as a green climate fund, the transfer and sharing of new technology, forest protection and conservation, domestic emissions reductions. Basically 193 representatives of the world agreed upon the fact that the world is warming up and that this is a bad thing. I would think that after 30 years of climate talks and negotiations at least this basic premise would have been carved in stone by now.

As I can see it, the main victory is that countries agree about climate change science, current global environmental distress and the treats our economies and ways of life are posing for future generations and the planet. That’s the “what?” in the equation. The “how, who and when?” remains a complete mystery, to be taken up again next year in Durban where negotiators will be faced with the most difficult questions to date: ratify extreme emission cuts to protect the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius and safe the future of the Kyoto Protocol. But if it took the United Nations 30 years to come up with a basic consensus about climate change, how long will it take them to tackle the real problems?