Climate challenge back on track after Cancun (20/12/2010)

Mark Dreyfus, Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, argues that international efforts to tackle climate change are back on track following the recent UN conference in Cancun, Mexico.dreyfus_300w.jpg


THE 194 COUNTRIES represented at Cancun accept the science of climate change and the urgent need for action.

The international struggle to deal with climate change is back on track.

At the UNFCC conference in Cancun, delegates from more than 190 countries agreed to make a major collective effort to reduce emissions and undertake adaptation measures.

With Climate Change Minister Greg Combet and a delegation of Australian officials, I had the honour of representing Australia at the conference.

Right until the end of the conference, the outcome remained in doubt.

Consensus driven multilateral negotiation between 194 countries is a slow, difficult and unpredictable process.

That is why in the final session, the Mexican Foreign Minister who chaired the conference, Patricia Espinosa, was greeted with applause that built to a long standing ovation. What prompted this reaction from delegates was the collective realisation that the Mexican presidency of the conference had managed to deliver what could not be delivered at Copenhagen last year: a balanced package of measures that will substantially advance the global effort.

The package agreed to in Cancun includes:


    • Anchoring in the formal UN process the emissions cuts pledged by developed and developing countries following the Copenhagen Accord, capturing more than 80 per cent of the world's emissions.


    • The establishment of a new Green Climate Fund to help developing countries deal with climate change.


    • A mechanism to help developing countries reduce emissions from deforestation.


    • New rules for verifying emissions cuts.


    • A mechanism for supporting low pollution technologies around the world.


    • Assistance with adaptation strategies for the world's most vulnerable countries.


    • The Mexicans showed rare skill and judgment in presenting, late on the last day of the conference, a text that cut through the unresolved issues. This was a "take it or leave it" strategy – rejection of the text by even a small number of countries would have derailed the process.

All participants, except Bolivia, accepted the draft agreement in the knowledge that while not everyone got what they wanted, the need for progress in the global effort was too important to stand in the way of a balanced agreement. The standing ovation for the Mexican Foreign Minister signified not just relief that the multilateral process could produce a result, but also displayed genuine excitement the immense effort made since before Copenhagen by many countries, including Australia, had been rewarded.

The 194 countries represented at Cancun, without exception, accept the science of climate change and the urgent need for global action.

This just goes to show how out of step Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is with world opinion - having last year rubbished climate change science as "absolute crap" and now refusing to even sit down to discuss how Australia can put a price on carbon.

I have returned to Australia with an even firmer resolve to work towards the introduction of a carbon price into our economy, and look forward to seeing the results of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee's work to build parliamentary and community consensus to do that in this term of government.

This article was originally published in the National Times.

More information

Visit the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency's website.