11 The betrayal of Cancún

This piece was written in December 2010 at COP16 at Cancún and was published by Friends of the Earth International[1]

It was obvious to observers that the climate negotiations at Cancún were wired to support commerce rather than tackling the climate crisis that the world is confronted with. This trend took solid steps a year earlier at the summit in Copenhagen when a handful of nations sidestepped the multilateral tradition of the United Nations and working through ‘green rooms’ away from the conference floor concocted the so-called Copenhagen Accord instead.

The Copenhagen Accord could not be adopted at the end of the 2009 conference for the basic reason that majority of country delegations did not know how it was crafted and on what basis. Countries like Bolivia and Venezuela stood resolutely against it and that conference only agreed to take note that such a document existed.

The fact that the Accord was not adopted as a conference outcome did not deter its authors, principally the United States, from working behind the scenes, bilaterally, to get several countries to endorse it. Some analysts have said that the endorsement was achieved through arm-twisting tactics and promises of financial and other aids. Those who refused to yield were sanctioned by way of having climate or environment assistance cut.

From the beginning of the Cancún negotiations, signals were sent that its essence was to elevate the Copenhagen Accord to the level of being the conference outcome. The first salvo was fired by the delegation of Papua New Guinea who declared that a few nations with divergent votes from the majority must not prevent the conference from reaching a decision. They suggested that if a consensus became impossible a decision should be made by a vote. This position, as noted in an earlier article on Cancún, was immediately objected to by the delegations of Bolivia, India, Saudi Arabia and others.

At the end of the Cancún summit, with the Copenhagen Accord now dressed in new garbs, there was no consensus for its adoption. Not to be deterred, the Mexican presidency of the conference banged the gavel repeatedly on her table and rammed the document through, after redefining consensus as not necessarily meaning unanimity.

Empty promises

Nations yelped and cheered. Cancún had delivered; they enthused and backslapped each other. But what did Cancún deliver and how will the planet fare under the scenario set by what has been termed Copenhagen Accord 2?

The conference outcome avoided legally binding emissions reduction targets for the main polluting nations— the rich industrialised countries— and rather urges a voluntary pledge-based system with no monitoring mechanisms. From recent WikiLeaks revelations regarding discussions in France, it is clear that the rich countries are determined not to make binding commitments to act for the safety of the planet.

Looking for something to celebrate, some countries latched on the promise to create a Climate Fund within the United Nations climate change framework but having the World Bank as a trustee. The promised climate fund did not specify how the funds would be sourced.

The agreement did not review subsisting intellectual property regime that does not freely allow the exchange of green technology. It took big steps in paving the way for new market based mechanisms that would allow for speculation and avoidance of actions to reduce emissions at source and generally position the planet at great risks of catastrophic climate change.

Teresa Andersen of the Gaia Foundation, who wrote about the manner the Cancún conference[2] ended, captures the disbelief of critical observers:

We sat in disbelief as the crowds leapt to their feet, cheering, applauding, whooping and whistling the Mexican chair of the Cancún climate negotiations. Mexico’s foreign secretary, Patricia Espinosa, graciously bowed her head, her hands crossed over her heart in an authoritarian simulation of modesty, as we shook our heads, open-mouthed, at the eerie frenzy taking place around us. In the last hours of the Cancún climate negotiations, the world’s deluded leaders were cheering as they tossed the planet onto the bonfire.

According to Teresa,

The Cancún Agreement, we are told, has ‘saved multilateralism’. What it has not done though, is offer any meaningful solution to climate change. As it stands, the Cancún Agreement could mean global temperature rises of up to 5 degrees centigrade, and a possible 6.5 degrees in Africa.

An initial analysis of the Cancún outcome by Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) saw the prospects of opening new market mechanisms as potentially creating practices that are more harmful to the climate than current ones.

According to FoEI,

…the establishment of one or more market-based mechanisms over the course of the next year is to be considered, with a view to taking a decision to adopt these new mechanisms at COP17 in South Africa. The new mechanisms could include a number of different types of instruments, some of which would be more destructive than others.

All was not lost in Cancún. Social movements pushed the path of climate justice in various venues in Cancún. The government of Bolivia, which had facilitated a Peoples Conference on climate change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April 2010, stood with the people, pushing the right analysis and solutions, right to the end of the conference.

Social and climate justice movements clearly stated that the causes of climate change are systemic and that the only way to tackle the climate crisis is through a change of the capitalist and patriarchal system that caused it.

With the clear indication that rich nations are not keen to tackle climate change, but would rather make bogus promises that poor vulnerable nations unfortunately lap up, it is doubtful if the 2011 conference to be hosted in Durban, South Africa, will produce anything different from Copenhagen and Cancún.

The South African government has dubbed COP17 the Peoples COP. It will be seen whether the voices of the people will prevail or if corporations and their surrogate politicians will hold sway in their market-based chariots.


  1. http://members.foei.org/en/blog/2011/01/03/the-betrayal-at-cancun on 3rd January 2011 (accessed 31 May 2015)
  2. Teresa Turna.21 December 2010. Mass-Hypnotism in Cancún Climate Delusion – where 'saving multilateralism' means burning the planet. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/blog/mass-hypnotism-cancun-climate-delusionaccessed 31 May 2016

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