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Policy Update 12/14/2010: The Cancun Agreements


Policy Update 12/14/2010: The Cancun Agreements

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After two weeks of deliberations, delegates from around the world have come to a consensus on a series of accords called the "Cancun Agreements" that will set the stage for the next phase of international climate talks next year in in Durban, South Africa. Despite obstruction from the U.S., nations attending the conference came to a series of agreements that help move the world closer to the global deal that eluded last year’s summit in Copenhagen. Back in Washington, D.C., a massive compromise on tax credit extensions will help keep renewable industries afloat, but concessions made by the Obama administration's EPA will punt key decisions regarding regulations for big polluters.

The Cancun Agreements

Overall the Cancun Agreements are considered a modest step forward. Agreement was reached on key pieces of the international agreement, such as finance for climate adaptation and emissions reduction activities in developing countries. Nonetheless, the scope of the agreements is still a far cry from the treaty needed to prevent dangerous climate change. Here are few good wrap-ups from Time and UNFCCC.

Major elements include:
  • An agreement that keeps the international community committed to the process established by the UNFCCC;
  • A $30 billion-package for 2012 to aid nations taking immediate action to adapt to global warming;
  • The Creation of a "Global Climate Fund" that will provide financing of $100 million annually for longer-term adaptation and mitigation measures in developing countries;
  • The creation of the forestry program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) to facilitate the flow of resources to communities dedicated to forest conservation;
  • The U.S. and China had a better working relationship in Cancun than in Copenhagen and recent trade negotiations. China agreed to specific language on monitoring and reporting their emissions, and the U.S. delegation reiterated commitments to fund climate adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries.

Throughout the talks, the U.S. delegation played more of an obstructionist role than was appropriate, given the Obama administration's prior support for global action on climate change. For 1Sky, Cancun represented a missed opportunity for the Obama administration to demonstrate much needed climate leadership.

On the ground in Cancun, nations most vulnerable to climate change spoke up:

In the wake of Cancun, countries are left to fill in the gaps between commitments and action:

Energy Tax Credit Compromises

Executives from the wind and solar industries were up in arms last week over news that the Senate tax package would not extend key tax credits for their industries. In a later deal, the program has been extended for these key job-producing industries. The 2009 Recovery Act grant program is credited with adding an additional 40,000 wind energy jobs in the last two years, and has the potential to create 58,000 new jobs in the solar industry by 2016. Analysis suggests that the program resulted in 6,000 additional MW of wind power last year beyond business as usual - the equivalent of 12 average-sized coal plants.

Unfortunately, the tax extenders package also contains two dirty energy tax credits for corn ethanol and liquid coal. 1Sky and others are opposing these provisions.

Mixed Messages from the Obama EPA

Last week EPA officials caved to industry demands, announcing that the agency will punt key regulations for smog and mercury. ALA estimates that 2,000-6,000 people will prematurely lose their lives as a result of the six-month delay. These rules are key for allowing clean energy to compete with dirty fuels like coal. One analysis suggests that over 50 GW worth of older coal plants could be retired and replaced with cleaner sources of energy as a result of the mercury rule alone.

EPA officials are also backtracking on a key Clean Air Act rule governing air toxics for industrial boilers, announcing a one-year delay. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune calls on President Obama to fight back against the big polluters responsible for delaying these regulations.

Climate and Coal

Australian climate science expert John Cook, author of recently released a simple, well-footnoted 16-page guide to climate science. Also, recent economic analysis of conventional coal pollutants finds that unscrubbed coal plants are imposing a $6 billion dollar burden on downwind businesses.

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