Hopes for a positive outcome of the Cancun summit had initially been muted. After the disappointment of Copenhagen, many U.S. statesmen and diplomats had apparently considered attending the Cancun Conference a waste of time (New York Times). Prior to leaving for Cancun, even the Federal Minister for the Environment, Norbert Roettgen, had also stated that he did not realistically expect a breakthrough at the conference (Focus).
The unusually cold onset of winter in Europe meanwhile had led many Germans to question - though mostly in jest - the urgency of fighting global warming. One blog memorably summed up these apprehensions under the headline: "Weather boycotts climate change" (Politplatschquatsch). According to recent research by the experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), however, extreme weather phenomena actually lend further credence to the global warming theory. Shrinking sea-ice in the eastern Arctic contributes to altered airflows that triple the frequency with which severe winters strike in the northern hemisphere (PIK).
Awareness of the urgency of countering global warming runs high in Germany, as Germans have a particular affinity for all environmental concerns, including the fight against global warming. The head of the Green Party parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Juergen Trittin, put it this way: "Internationally, efforts to protect the climate have in the past made headway only when Europe moved forward. And Europe only took the lead, when individual member states, and in particular Germany, moved forward, too" (Spiegel).
These efforts to protect the climate received a major boost in Cancun, as the conference participants pledged themselves to the two-degree Celsius goal and achieved progress on international forest conservation, technology transfer, and securing long-term financing of climate protection policies. Enthusiastic, Germany's representative at the Cancun summit, Minister Roettgen, called on Europe to resume its lead on climate questions and to lower emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020. The positive outcome of the talks would restore confidence in the United Nations as an effective forum for addressing the climate challenge. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle held up the talks as proof that agreement between industrialized and emerging countries was indeed possible. Germany and Europe now ought to strive to resume their leadership position in the struggle to fight global warming. The Opposition parties generally welcomed the Cancun outcome, too, but considered it to still be insufficient in face of the climate change challenge (Focus).
There were more critical voices, too. After all, the question remains whether the outcome of the Cancun talks will set the world on the right track. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is sceptical in this regard. It cautions that Cancun had not brought the world any closer to realizing the dream of a legally binding international climate agreement, but that the summit's "big palaver without binding force" merely remained an "option" for rescuing global climate protection policies. Economic and geopolitical hurdles would continue to stand in the way of making emissions reductions obligatory. The true challenge would now lie with reducing the distrust between the negotiating parties in order to push binding emissions targets. The op-ed concludes that the only foundation for some vague optimism on climate change policies would lie outside the UN system, namely in semi-secretive diplomacy efforts, e.g. between the United States and China. Thanks to the summit in Mexico, nearly 90 percent of worldwide emissions would be covered by the Cancun paper, compared to 27% under the Kyoto Agreement. However, the Cancun agreement would remain non-binding, a mere option for improvement. The biggest intellectual challenge remains the mutual distrust among states working against CO2 emissions (FAZ).
In another op-ed in its economy section, the center-right elite daily FAZ further advocates supplementing abdicating laborious and slow climate talks in favor of allowing market forces to operate. This would provide another, potentially more successful path towards reigning in environmental damage. By attaching a price to emissions and promoting more efficient emissions trading systems in and beyond Europe, much more could be done within a shorter time period. "Not more environmental politics, but more market provide the best climate protection" (FAZ).
The Financial Times Deutschland is also concerned that expensive climate summit talks run well sort of their promise. Throughout the world, governments are still reluctant to implement measures to curtail emissions. An internationally binding climate agreement is not in sight. However, the summit in Mexico does show that awareness of global warming is on the rise and that the search for technical means to combat it is intensifying - this can be seen as a success. As a state's technical capacity to meet climate targets increases, so would its readiness to enter into internationally binding agreements. Therefore, while the international climate protection jackpot will probably not be hit on one of the next summits either, Cancun nourishes hopes that we can expect at least several smaller leaps forward in future talks (FTD).
Much further to the left of the political spectrum, Die tageszeitung is far less reserved in its assessment of the Cancun summit. It believes meaningful progress has not been achieved, and has instead been forestalled by the economic interests of oil-producing countries, particularly by Saudi Arabia. That country would portray itself as a developing-world-victim of efforts to fight climate change, since falling oil revenues might hamper its development. The report claims that Saudi Arabia's sponsorship of carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS) as a "Clean Development Mechanism" serves as a thin disguise for the utility of pressing CO2 gas underground in order to increase receding Saudi oil well output. (taz).
Given the low expectations for the Cancun summit, observers in Germany were near unanimous in emphasizing the fact that an agreement was reached at all. The German environmentalist lobby group Bund fuer Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) called the Cancun results „a minimum compromise" which at least "saved the UN process". Greenpeace Deutschland pragmatically welcomed Cancun as an important step toward a climate treaty. Concrete measures to lower emissions as demanded in the Cancun decisions would regrettably have to wait until the next round of climate negotiations. These talks will take place in Durban, South Africa, in late 2011 (Thueringer Allgemeine).
The Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called the Cancun results "a good step forward" toward an international follow-up treaty to Kyoto, although she noted that a significant amount of work still needed to be done to render that goal achievable (Badische Zeitung). The coalition government sees its efforts to combat climate change as a stellar opportunity to improve economic performance and increase growth rates. Germany's environmental report for 2010 lists CO2 emissions at 28.7 percent below the 1990 mark in late 2009. This marks a significant progress, in excess of the 21 percent by 2012 demanded by the Kyoto Protocol (Manager Magazin).
Minister Roettgen explained this success story by stressing that it was essential to regard climate change not as a threat, but as an opportunity. Sales of green technologies and related items had helped Germany to overcome the economic crisis much faster than might otherwise have been the case. Today, German exports of modern energy and environmental technologies account for up to 30 percent of global market share (Handelsblatt).
In his Cancun speech, Minister Roettgen conveyed his enthusiasm for a speedy transition toward a low-carbon economy by maintaining that it represented an excellent strategy for promoting growth and development worldwide. A recent study by the Heinrich Boell Foundation and Oxfam (financed by the EU) also advocates the fight against climate change as an effective means to prevent the spread of poverty. Among other demands directed at the German Federal Government, the foundation's climate experts argue that the conclusion of an international treaty with ambitious, binding limits for emissions is crucial to attaining that goal (Heinrich Boell Stiftung).
Photo Licence: cc by UNFCCC