Climate Talks: A Whole Lot Of Nothing

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Not as much hype was made this year ahead of the global climate change talks, which were held in Cancun, Mexico, and few decisions of importance were made. Although a few smaller points were agreed upon, for the most part, no significant changes were made.

Perhaps the reason for the lack of enthusiasm is due to a number of factors: slowly recovering global economies, fewer heads of state attending than last year and some countries facing less support for climate change initiative. Last year, President Obama had the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, his administration this year has been focused on other key initiatives. As of November 2010, he had lost control of the House, and by mid-December support from Democrats was slipping, too. On whole, U.S. desire for a cap and trade system has been dwindling throughout 2010, leaving the U.S.’s position weaker going into these global negotiations.

Ironically, smaller countries seem more aggressive and eager to tackle the challenges of the changing climate. For example, Mexico, where the meeting was held, had to increase its emergency fund for natural disasters fivefold after a number of hurricanes battled the state in 2010. Ethiopia’s prime minister noted his country’s droughts are now “every one to two years, not once in a decade as they used to.” The Honduran President said his country was seeing strange new diseases in corn.

While these talks were going on, the United Kingdom announced it would aim to cut its carbon emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 as a stepping stone to reaching an 80 percent cut by 2050. The challenge will be how they and other industrialized nations will pay for the switch to greener technologies. As many first world countries struggle with rising debts and curtailed spending, getting their citizens to accept more regulation, higher taxes and a delay in their economy’s growth will be difficult.

Without first world support for new regulations, any hopes that significant global change would come out of these meetings was quickly dashed. Despite the warmer local, especially after the public relations disaster of last year’s event, which saw many members struggling to arrive in Copenhagen after a blizzard shut down much of Europe, talks simply could not heat up.

Another issue that was practically dead on arrival was the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, now 13 years old, which is set to expire at the end of 2012. The U.S. and China remain at logger heads on this issue with little expected to change. According to The New York Times, “China has passed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse pollutants and has voluntarily taken large strides toward slowing the growth of its emissions. But it refuses to be bound to an international agreement that does not require larger, verifiable reductions from the United States and other wealthy countries.”

According to The New York Times’ coverage of the event, some progress was made at the talks. “There has been some progress on four major points of discussion at the talks. Those involve slowing the destruction of forests, sharing technology to produce energy in less-destructive ways, helping poorer countries adapt to the inevitable changes to the climate and building a multibillion-dollar fund to further these goals.”

That’s probably the biggest and best news to come out of the talks. But on the whole, not much come out it. Here’s looking to next year.

By Colleen Scherer, managing editor, AgProfessional



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