What does the COP16 Agreement mean for Sustainable Innovation?

There is no doubt that the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen in December last year achieved very little and collapsed under the combined weight of the posturing of political star-power and its own expectations. This year in Cancun there was almost no expectation to achieve anything which means that the agreement that did come out of COP 16 is fairly significant. It is only an incremental step but has a number of specific commitments that are worth highlighting. The new head of the UNFCCC (who took over from Ivo de Boer) characterized the outcome of COP16 in the following way:

“Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited and faith in the multilateral climate change process to deliver results has been restored. Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof, to reach consensus on a common cause. They have shown that consensus in a transparent and inclusive process can create opportunity for all.

“Governments have given a clear signal that they are headed towards a low-emissions future together, they have agreed to be accountable to each other for the actions they take to get there, and they have set it out in a way which encourages countries to be more ambitious over time… This is not the end, but it is a new beginning. It is not what is ultimately required but it is the essential foundation on which to build greater, collective ambition.”

Christina Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary

Achieving this modest progress was not without difficulty as the negotiations teetered on the brink of collapse at a number of points during the conference. Bolivia in particular ramped up the rhetoric with Bolivian President Evo Morales urging the world not to commit Ecocide. Indeed, Bolivia held out until the very end but all the other parties went ahead and agreed anyway.

The most interesting action points (taken from the UNFCCC press release) to come out of the accord are the following(to head to the official UNFCCC text go here):

  1. Developing country actions to reduce emissions are officially recognized under the multilateral process. A registry is to be set up to record and match developing country mitigation actions to finance and technology support from by industrialized countries. Developing countries are to publish progress reports every two years.
  2. Parties meeting under the Kyoto Protocol agree to continue negotiations with the aim of completing their work and ensuring there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods of the treaty.
  3. The Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanisms has been strengthened to drive more major investments and technology into environmentally sound and sustainable emission reduction projects in the developing world.
  4. Parties launched a set of initiatives and institutions to protect the vulnerable from climate change and to deploy the money and technology that developing countries need to plan and build their own sustainable futures.
  5. A total of $30 billion in fast start finance from industrialized countries to support climate action in the developing world up to 2012 and the intention to raise $100 billion in longterm funds by 2020 is included in the decisions.
  6. In the field of climate finance, a process to design a Green Climate Fund under the Conference of the Parties, with a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries, is established.
  7. A new Cancun Adaptation Framework is established to allow better planning and implementation of adaptation projects in developing countries through increased financial and technical support, including a clear process for continuing work on loss and damage.
  8. Governments agree to boost action to curb emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries with technological and  financial support.
  9. Parties have established a technology mechanism with a Technology Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network  to increase technology cooperation to support action on adaptation and mitigation.\

What is important to highlight is that many of these points of agreement cover some of the most contentious issues that were responsible for bringing the Copenhagen negotiation to its knees. What is not mentioned here is the exceptional role played by the Mexican Government and Christina Figueres. They deserve to be highly commended for the transparency and effectiveness of the process. The ability to make progress at Cancun can be attributed to their leadership and their ability to build and maintain bridges between developed and developing countries and across issue areas. This was in clear contrast to the process in Copenhagen which was poisoned by the perception and reality of shady ‘deals within deals’ and alternate options being developed behind closed doors by powerful cliques of countries.

Particularly notable in the context of the ‘doers’ who are part of the Globe Forum community are, the deal on REDD+, which opens the door to inventive and visionary ways of addressing the complex issue of deforestation, the strengthening of the CDM which offers exciting opportunities for technology transfer, moving forward on the design and implementation of the Green Climate Fund and the establishment of a clear technology mechanism which will nurture a technology centre and wider network around innovative technologies for addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Cancun agreement must not be overstated in terms of its importance but it also must not be dismissed. All those involved in Sustainable Innovation should applaud the progress made as it gets the process back on track and begins to develop practical tools for making a difference in combating climate change and related issues such as deforestation.

Finally, I just want to say that despite the gnashing of teeth and dirty tricks of the climate deniers, along with the overblown and manufactured ‘climategate’ scandal, the entire conference agreed that climate change is a grave threat to humanity and that it is unequivocally caused by humans. Climate change is happening. The COP16 agreement along with all the great work being done by entrepreneurs, companies and organisations all over the world is proof that there is the capacity of action to match the scale of the challenge. We are back on track, lets get to work.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 23, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    very thoughtful comment! thanks for posting and sharing your ideas. i also believe that we should do a lot more in order to transform our cities into more sustainable and greener environments. in the usa, we can see trends that companies now start to realise the importance of renewable energy. siemens usa, for instance, have just launched a new campaign called ‘sustainable cities: http://www.usa.siemens.com/sustainablecities/index.html does anyone know whether similar things are going on in Asia and Europe as well?


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