First the caveats. Any diplomats waking up following the dramatic final night of negotiations at the Cancun Summit feeling a warm glow of pride at a job well done would be wise to remind themselves that there remains a gaping chasm between the actions required to effectively tackle climate change and the actions promised in the vaunted Cancun Accords.
You know there is something badly wrong with a situation when you find yourself in agreement with Bolivia's socialist firebrands. But when the country's climate envoy, Pablo Solon, refused to bow to pressure and issued a statement arguing the Cancun Agreement was "disastrous for humanity" because it would still allow for temperature rises of up to 4 degrees Celsius, it was hard not to nod along.
The latest scientific updates get scarier by the week and the global response is still woefully inadequate. Moreover, critics are right when they point out that a deal was only reached after virtually every single contentious issue was kicked into the long grass of next year. There may have been the outline of a compromise deal on the monitoring, verification and reporting (MRV) of greenhouse gas emissions, but there is no indication of how long-term climate finance will be raised, no start date for new forestry protection measures, no timeline for reforms to the carbon market.
Most crucially of all,there is no evidence that countries will agree to more ambitious emissions targets and no end in sight to the central stand-off over the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Every single one of these unresolved issues has the potential to scupper the main summit in South Africa next year and leave the world without any meaningful international climate change deal in place from 2012 onwards.
And yet it is hard to agree fully with the Cassandras today accusing governments of spinning Cancun's failure as a success -- they may not have gone far enough, but last week's talks have delivered significant and encouraging progress.
Ahead of the summit British government officials listed five areas that would determine whether Cancun was a success or failure: Whether emission pledges made in Copenhagen would be brought into the U.N. process; whether an MRV mechanism could be agreed; whether a new green climate fund would be launched; whether there would be a deal to tackle deforestation; and whether there would be progress on technology transfer.
Privately officials admitted that getting tangible progress on three out of these five areas would be a good result -- in the end they got progress on all five.