Multilateralism in Cancun? Who are we deceiving?

18 Dec

Unlike the Copenhagen Summit last year, COP 16 or the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties in Mexico, Cancun, has occurred with less media attention. Perhaps the pathetic agreements achieved in the last conference had diminished public expectations and soured hopes of a possible breakthrough for this year.

To read the press releases of NGOs such as Greenpeace Australia and Oxfam Australia congratulating states for making baby steps during the Cancun Conference therefore sounded like a broken soundtrack from an alternate universe. Have we not heard these remarks too often? For instance, Greenpeace acknowledged that governments have finally come to terms with scientific opinion as they agreed that carbon emissions need to be reduced within 25 to 40 percent by 2020; and that global temperature do not increase beyond 2 degrees. Furthermore, members states have also created a green fund totalling US 100 billion for developing states to deal with climate change effects and deforestation. Phil Ireland who was at the conference  and blogging for Oxfam Australia opined that while the agreement was ‘not perfect’, it provided strong building blocks for a future treaty’ As he noted and I quote, There is still a long way to go until these foundations are developed and cemented into a comprehensive, fair, ambitious and binding international treaty’.

His optimism leaves one to wonder whether the aforementioned bloggers and organisations truly understood the scope and repercussions of climate change. How much time do we have before governments will come to their senses and commit themselves to a binding agreement?

It is therefore heartening to read other less sanguine commentators and NGOs such as Friends of the Earth who were dismissive of the hollow terms agreed in Cancun.

According to Nick Buxton on Indymedia UK, the Cancun agreements were problematic for two main reasons. Firstly, it replaced the Kyoto Protocol with ‘a pledge system of voluntary commitments’. This means states would not be penalised if they fail to fulfil its commitments. Secondly, according to the IPCC, emissions have to stabilise at the atmospheric CO2 levels of 350 to 400 Parts Per Million by 2015. With a timeline of less than five years, this is thus a matter of great urgency. Yet, Cancun has shown that governments are quite willing to evade the difficult issues and relegate them as matters for future negotiations.

He also listed other failures of the Cancun Accord such as the creation of ‘loopholes and flexibilities that allow developed countries to avoid action’; the weakening of financial commitments; appointing The World Bank as trustee of a new Green Climate Fund, despite its questionable environmental record; and allowing the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme that would encourage deforestation and dispossess indigenous people.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) has also dissented from the felicitations and stated that the agreements achieved are ‘wholly inadequate’.  Besides criticising the leading polluters such as US, Russia and Japan for being primarily responsible for climate change,  it also acknowledged that the climate fund, though a sign of progress, nevertheless, does not ‘commensurate with equity and need’.

For Naomi Klein, the conference agreements are similar to its predecessor. I quote,

‘The Cancun Accord fails to establish binding commitments, it empowers the World Bank by opening up the possibility for more privatization, indebtedness and conditionalities, it establishes insufficient funds for responding to the impacts of global warming and taking up the task of adaptation, and it puts humanity at risk by threatening a rise in average temperature of greater than 2 degrees Celsius’.

Furthermore, the Cancun Accord, does not promote multilateralism as others have suggested,

‘Although the result has been touted as the salvation of multilateralism, it paradoxically cements the model of “voluntary commitments” that is at the heart of the Copenhagen Accords. The threat is that in the future – as we said before – arguments about “urgency” and the debacle the planet faces due to climate change would be used to justify any kind of action, even if it is authoritarian, mercantilist, excludes the majority, or serves only to prop up the status quo of elites. It’s basically saying, “Bye Bye, multilateralism.”

In reality, of course, the UN has been quite intolerant when it comes to dissenters.  How else to explain the rough handling of  activists and journalists outside the conference halls while mainstream media maintains its vow of silence? Kudos to Democracy Now! for reporting on the clamping down on peaceful demonstrators as UN security guards ‘wrestled activists onto buses… [removed] press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera’. A film footage was captured showing a Reuters photographer beaten up simply for covering a protest.

It is difficult to feel hopeful as mainstream media and the cheerleaders of the UN process creates the deceptive illusion that progress has been made on combating climate change. To devote slavish faith to a series of ongoing negotiations that persist in pretending to do something is dangerous, perhaps more dangerous than doing nothing.

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