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From Cancun to Durban – what’s in store for the next 12 months?

14th January 2011

By: Saliem Fakir


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When you land in Cancun, what strikes you most starkly are concrete blocks upon concrete blocks that have taken occupation where lush mangroves once existed.

There are many square metres of hotels squatting along Cancun’s beautiful beach boulevard. Cradling along the main thoroughfare are brand icons of the cement industry – including Cemex and Lafarge – waiting to pour more concrete at the dollar’s beckoning.


Perhaps things have changed since the recession, and where the dollar does not buy as it used to, the flow of concrete has been somewhat stemmed.

Cancun is truly an American tourist resort, and I hope I am not too impolite in suggesting that the noises of concrete and tourists take a tad of the Mexican out of Cancun. You have to go a few hundred kilometres out of town to see, smell and taste the real Mexico.


When the dollar dictates terms, the scale at which things are done can only astound you. You pay one fixed price for a night and you get to eat and drink what you want. One could drink a variety of tequilas like you have never drunk before. It was all part of the contradictions that filled the ambience of the recent climate negotiations in Cancun. Here, cheap carbon-sucking tourism and there, not too far away, the future of the world being negotiated.

Back at the Moon Palace, where the main negotiations were taking place and where American warships could be seen anchored not too far away, Cancun was a success only because it started off a low base after the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen hopelessly flopped.

Cancun, under the skilful tutelage of the Mexican negotiators, needed only deliver any low-base goal and it would be a success. And, indeed, it did.

There is a glimmer of hope, some may say, but we should not be too sure. We are still a long way from a new Kyoto and legally binding emissions reduction targets. This is the challenge left for Durban and a real tough nut to crack.

What Cancun did was to politely expunge the controversial Copenhagen Accord, hatched by a few countries. We have waved goodbye to the botched Copenhagen Accord for now. The work of the Mexicans also ensured that not too many feathers were ruffled.

The Mexicans managed to bring a modicum of respect for multilateralism and the emphasis that no process outside the multilateral system will be acceptable.

Cancun delivered two low-hanging fruits: a global green fund, to be managed in the interim by the World Bank, and a process from Cancun to Durban. The operations of the green fund and how it is to be financed are not clear at the moment.

Following the Copenhagen meeting, United Nations (UN) secretary-general Ban Ki-moon established a high-level advisory panel for global finance (AGF) to figure out how the $100-billion that is needed each year to fund climate action by 2020 can be raised.

The AGF’s report came out prior to the Cancun meeting. The panel consolidated the proposals that have been floating about for some time now with respect to how international finance can be raised to fund climate mitigation and adaptation. These range from the raising of bunker fuels and some sort of Tobin tax to the mobilisation of private capital. But the AGF’s work is caught up in some untidy bits of politics between the Conference of Parties for climate change and the UN secretary-general’s initiative.

The lines have still not been connected between the two processes. The AGF’s work has still to be incorporated into the climate negotiations process.

Whether we will have a second round of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain, and it does not help that we have a flip-flop on this issue and no sign of strong backing by the very country that gave the protocol its name – Japan.

Currently, the emissions reductions pledged are well below what is required by science. Most people are sceptical that Durban will deliver a ‘required by science’ level of ambition to keep temperature rises below 2 ºC.

For the process up to Durban, there is still the negotiation of a legally binding agreement and the phasing in of a second round of the Kyoto Protocol – both the US and China are key to how this unfolds. Predicting success for Durban is a tough call and seems like mission impossible.

We may well end up like the Doha round of trade talks (as some have suggested) – lots of talking and no real will to commit to any global action. It will be impasse upon impasse until the very thing itself fades from memory – who remembers Doha these days?


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