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Why Cancun matters: Levi

Council on Foreign Relations environment wonk Michael Levi is making a case that there's more at stake at this week's Cancun climate conference than doomsaying pundits would lead us to believe.

In a Slate essay entitled, Why Cancun Matters, Levi writes:

Last year's talks produced the "Copenhagen Accord," a political agreement that was roundly savaged. Yet the accord is more valuable and important than most assume -- and its future is at risk in Cancun. If negotiators let it die, as many privately wish, they will not get something closer to their ideal; they will get nothing.

The Copenhagen Accord did three important things. It established a series of global benchmarks against which countries' efforts to confront climate change could be judged. These include the goal of preventing global temperatures from increasing to more than 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, and a goal of raising "up to $100 billion" by 2020 to help developing countries address climate change. It required all but the poorest countries to present national plans for curbing emissions; more than 100, including China and India, have followed through. And it committed countries to transparency, so that other nations could assess whether they were making progress.

Levi argues that most of the attacks on the Copenhagen Accord centre on "a ridiculous comparison to a perfect agreement that will never exist."

Some focused on the fact that it was not a legally binding treaty. The line between gentlemen's agreement and hard law, though, is fuzzy in the world of international affairs. The Kyoto Protocol was legally binding, yet Canada has grossly violated it without penalty; China, meanwhile, has technically adhered to the protocol, but only because it required nothing of Beijing. There is no reason to assume that a wise political deal cannot be more effective than an unambitious but legally binding one.

Others have emphasized that the emissions-cutting pledges that countries made as part of the Copenhagen Accord are not enough, collectively, to meet the 2-degree target. But the pledges improved upon the status quo, and there is nothing in the accord that would prohibit countries from strengthening their efforts in the future.

Levi is a senior fellow for energy and environment at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.

Monte Paulsen reports on carbon shift for The Tyee.

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