The climate talks ended with uncertainty over the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and no agreement on binding emission reductions.

The difference between optimists and pessimists is that the optimists have more fun, joked Elias Freig-Delgado, a member of Mexico's Ministry of Finance Special CO{-2} Task Force and the working groups of the U.N. High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing. Mr. Delgado was speaking at the Forest Day meeting during the Cancun climate summit, well before it ended. “Cancun can” was the buzzword, and yes, the optimists did have more fun.

Those who had gathered in the hope of influencing world climate policy got, instead, a slew of agreements that left open the emission reduction targets for developed countries, which must have pleased the United States, Japan and others who are not in favour of binding cuts. The U.S. had another reason to be pleased — the mitigation pledges it had orchestrated at Copenhagen were adopted in the United Nations framework, as also the transparency agreement, in which India played a major role.

In 2009, the Copenhagen Accord declared that deep cuts in global emissions were required to hold the increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. Of the 140 countries that have associated themselves with the Accord, 85 have pledged to reduce their emissions or constrain their growth by 2020, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report said.

The Emissions Gap Report released by the UNEP at the conference said that if the highest ambitions of all the countries associated with the Copenhagen Accord are implemented and supported, annual emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) could be cut on an average by around seven gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide- equivalent by 2020. It is likely that without this action, a business-as-usual scenario would see emissions rising to an average of around 56 Gt of carbon dioxide- equivalent by around 2020. Cuts in annual emissions to around 49 Gt of Carbon dioxide-equivalent would still, however, leave a gap of around five Gt compared with where you need to be. That is because experts estimate that emissions need to be around 44 Gt of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2020 to have a likely chance of pegging temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less.

However, experts estimate that if only the lowest ambition pledges are implemented and if no clear rules are set in the negotiations, emissions could be 53 Gt of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2020.

Transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy has never been so desperately needed. Yet what did the agreements at Cancun actually give you? Uncertainty over the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, no binding emission reductions for developed countries and a lack of environmental integrity, as one of the observers pointed out. The Cancun agreements said that there should be no gap between the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in December 2012, and the second phase. However, it merely calls on the developed countries to “raise the level of ambition of the emission reductions to be achieved by them individually or jointly, with a view to reducing their aggregate level of emission of green house gases...”

On Day 1 of the climate change conference, Japan threw a spanner in the works by declaring its intention not to support a second phase of commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Though Japan's stand is not new, it hung like a sword of Damocles over the meet. The U.S. maintained that it was not for binding emission cuts if other emerging economies such as India and China were not on board in the final agreement.

Now, the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain since there are no binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. In the context of the long-term goal and the ultimate objective of the Convention and the Bali action plan, the idea is to work towards identifying a global goal to reduce substantially global emissions by 2050 and to consider this at next year's climate change meet. At India's behest, the figure of 50 per cent has been dropped from the global goal for substantially reducing emissions by 2050.

The agreements recognise that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science and as documented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb the increase in global average temperatures below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. In the absence of any firm targets, the spectre raised by the UNEP calculations seems possible 10 years later. During the conference, India and the other BASIC countries, the least developed countries, the Alliance of Small Island States, Africa, most of the G-77 and the European Union states were firm on a second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and binding emission cuts. Yet, this was not reflected in the final agreement.

While the issue of transparency, adaptation, a green climate fund, technology transfer, forestry and capacity-building have been long-awaited decisions, the world cannot just wait and hope that commitments and targets by individual countries would be enough to reduce GHG emissions. That is the failure of the Cancun agreements.

Diplomacy and multilateralism have triumphed, as many have said, but where has that left the task of combating climate change?

As in Copenhagen, Bolivia expressed strong reservations about the proposals in the text before they were adopted and at the final meetings. However, the Conference of Parties president, Patricia Espinosa, was firm in overruling them. Bolivia was faced with constant questions from the media on whether it would block a deal, walk out or veto.

Pablo Solon, the chief negotiator, defended Bolivia's position by retorting, why don't you ask Japan why it's not agreeing to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol? Mr. Solon also said that the U.S. was very much the architect of the Cancun proposals, a role it had played earlier in Copenhagen.

It should come, then, as no surprise that the Americans have gone back with a transparency agreement in place and no binding emission cuts. They lose nothing since in any case they are not part of the Kyoto Protocol. Their commitment at Copenhagen to reduce emissions will not result in much. Where they have a crucial role is in providing the funds for mitigation and adaptation.

The fast-start finance amount of $30 billion by 2012 is off to a shaky start with the U.S. pledging only $1.7 billion so far. Even more ambitious is the Green Climate Fund, which hopes to amass $100 billion annually till 2020. The resources and allocations for this are yet to be firmed up.

The fast-start finance faced a lot of flak from across countries including India, with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh saying it was not fast, had not started and there was no finance.

If finance was the lure at Cancun, just as it was last year to get opposing countries to support the Copenhagen Accord, then at least that must translate into reality.

Otherwise much more than optimism will be needed at Durban where the climate summit will be held in 2011.

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