New international agreement to fight climate change found spirit for consensus in Cartagena Dialogue countries

In the wee hours of the morning, delegates at the international climate talks in Cancún reached agreement on how to move forward together to fight climate change. Many of us feared that if agreement was not reached during this meeting, we would see a loss of ability of the international system to work together on key issues that face our planet. Although the fate of the existing climate treaty (the Kyoto Protocol) was left to decide another day, the Cancún Agreements confirm the urgency of taking action to fight climate change and put in place a number of mechanisms for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and helping countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. They have prepared the way for increased action at the national level to reduce emissions and build clean energy. Finding a consensus among the many differing perspectives of the participating countries can to a great extent be chalked up to a new voice in the talks: the Cartagena Dialogue.

The Cartagena Dialogue is a network of countries working for a constructive solution in the negotiations. I could see the fingerprint of the Cartagena Dialogue throughout this round of talks. The Cartagena Dialogue includes countries from almost every negotiating group - a list is at the end of this blog. The Dialogue allowed countries a safe place to test out text and areas for consensus that they could take back to their negotiating groups. Leadership from Latin America was strong, not only from Mexico who ran the talks with grace and firmness, but also from Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Chile and many others.  

Last night, Peru made the point that even though the commitments to emissions reductions are just a starting point, the cooperation among countries to get the “delicate balance” of this agreement was important. Costa Rica pointed out that the consensus was one that covered the interests of the negotiating countries, even if every country gave something to reach that consensus.

Why was this move to find consensus and reach an international climate agreement so important? Many countries have now made national commitments and are starting to take actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, what the agreement from the last round of talks did was to put those national commitments into an international framework. Without an international structure for monitoring, funding, technology transfer, and adaptation, many countries trying to move forward with curbing global warming pollution lose out. These countries may not be the biggest emitters or the most vulnerable to climate change, but they are trying to take positive action and they need the help of their fellow nations to do so.

The question of the fate of the existing climate treaty – the Kyoto Protocol – and its relationship to a possible future climate treaty has been left unresolved for now, to be decided at another time. However, the talks confirmed strongly that climate change is happening and in the face of a world plagued by a growing number of people who would deny that climate change is real and man-made, this is an important affirmation from the nations of the world. Even the one country that would have liked to block the agreement (Bolivia) was doing so because they do not feel the agreement goes far enough.

Among other things, the Cancún climate talks reached the following important agreements:

  • The national greenhouse gas reduction commitments that countries made at the last round of climate talks in Copenhagen have been reaffirmed, and even though they do not yet add up to the reduction that science tells us is necessary to avoid serious climate change, they are an important start.  Countries, both developed and developing, also made new commitments to monitor, verify and report on their emissions and actions, including for developed countries the financial, technology and capacity-building support they are providing to developing countries.  This includes the proposal made by India for technical analysis of developing country reports on emissions reductions (see earlier blog).
  • Countries agreed on a path forward for making real progress in reducing deforestation emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change and creating a new Green Climate Fund.  The framework and principles are laid out, and it is up to the parties to begin to implement and show their commitment to working together.

Ultimately, the real action in fighting climate change is at home – in each of our countries. This is especially true for big emitters such as the United States and countries with rapidly growing emissions, and applies whether rising emissions come from the expansion of polluting sectors such as tar sands oil extraction in Canada or rapid urbanization and economic growth in China and India.  In all cases, we need to develop more sustainable, low carbon ways to develop and grow.  But for this round of climate talks, it took a number of countries committed to moving forward in a constructive way such as the Cartagena Dialogue to change the tone of the negotiations from one where countries dug in their heels to one where they rolled up their sleeves and worked constructively. With a renewed international structure now in place, it is time to recommit to doing the hard work at home to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move forward with clean energy.

See the blogs from my NRDC colleagues here in Cancun, Jake Schmidt, Heather Allen, Barbara Finamore, Alvin Lin and Adrianna Quintero for more details on various aspects of the agreement.

The Cartagena Dialogue includes Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Danmark, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, European Union, European Commission, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico (as incoming Climate Negotiations President), Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Rwanda, Samoa, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.