The global climate change talks in Cancun wrapped up on December 11, 2010 without an agreement to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol, but with somewhat vague commitments to transfer money and technology to the developing world. It is a measure of how far expectations have fallen since Copenhagen last year that Cancun was viewed by most as a success.

Although the hard decisions on what will happen when the first Kyoto compliance period ends in 2012 were deferred to the next climate summit in Durban, South Africa next November-December, a number of “building blocks” were put in place at Cancun. These include the following:

  • The emission reduction targets adopted by developed countries at Copenhagen have been integrated into the UN framework, however they are still not legally enforceable. (Canada’s commitment under the Copenhagen Accord is a 17% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020.) The Cancun agreements urge these countries to “increase the ambition” of these targets. These countries are also to submit annual greenhouse gas inventories and biennial reports on their progress in achieving their targets.
  • Developing countries have committed to take “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” to reduce emissions, and to provide biennial progress reports. A registry will be created to match mitigation actions with finance and technology from developed countries.
  • Developing countries were encouraged to develop strategies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (“REDD+”), and developed countries were urged to support such measures. These strategies are to conform with a number of prescribed guidelines – for example, they are to show respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples.
  • A Green Climate Fund was established to support climate change projects, programs and policies in the developing world. Half of the Fund’s board members will be from developing countries and half from developed ones. In the first three years, the World Bank will act as trustee of the Fund.
  • Cancun recognized the commitment at Copenhagen for US$30 billion in “fast-start finance” to be transferred to the developing world between 2010 and 2012. In addition, developed countries agreed at Cancun to “mobilize” a further $100 billion per year by 2020 “to address the needs of developing countries”, much of which is to flow through the new Green Climate Fund. However, it is not clear where this money will come from and how much of it will be from the private sector.
  • A new Technology Mechanism was established, which is meant to facilitate the transfer of technology for mitigation and adaptation to the developing world.
  • The Cancun Adaptation Framework was established, which will encourage co-operation on adaptation strategies and provide assistance to developing countries in the formulation of such strategies.
  • Several decisions of a more technical nature were made at Cancun. For example, it was decided that carbon capture and storage projects are eligible for credits under the Clean Development Mechanism.

Although Cancun was widely interpreted as regaining some of the momentum for the multilateral UN process which had been lost at Copenhagen, there is still a wide divergence of views as to what should succeed the first Kyoto compliance period after 2012. For instance, Japan took the position at Cancun that it would not support any legally binding targets after 2012 unless all the other big emitters, like China and the US, accept targets too, and reportedly insisted on the insertion of language in the final Cancun agreements that “recalled” Article 21 of the Kyoto Protocol, which essentially says that no country can be forced to take on post-2012 targets if it does not want to. Meanwhile many developing countries, which have no binding targets in the first compliance period, continue to press for an extension of Kyoto. For its part, Canada said, in a press release following the conclusion of the Cancun summit, that it “will continue to work constructively to implement the Copenhagen Accord and to complete the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for a comprehensive, legally binding post-2012 agreement that is fair, effective and comprehensive.”