Skip to main content

Is Cancun Really the Last Chance for a Post-Kyoto Climate Deal?

The Cancun Climate Summit is scheduled to start on November 29, and Jones Lang LaSalle has just signed the Cancun Communiqué, which sets out the case for action on climate change.

Not much is expected to happen at this “last-chance” summit before the first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

The U.S. and China, the world’s largest carbon producers, have not been able to agree on ways to measure, monitor and verify emissions, and are unlikely to sign onto the protocol before the commitment period expires.

COP16 Coverage at can read more about the goals and challenges of Cancun, as well as an overview of where various countries stand on carbon efficiency and other sustainability indicators, in the newest installment of Global Sustainability Perspective, our quarterly report on energy and sustainability issues around the world.

One passage in particular I found enlightening. The report notes that the 15 European Union signatories to the Kyoto Protocol are on track to reach their goal of reducing CO2 by 8 percent between 2008 and 2012 compared to the 1990 baseline year -- "and this in spite of a 45 percent economic growth over the same period."

So despite what many in the U.S. seem to believe, CO2 reduction and economic growth are not mutually exclusive goals.

Here is an excerpt from our quarterly report that provides a walk-up to the Cancun summit:

Everyone has been busy preparing the "last-chance" climate summit to be held in Cancun, Mexico, starting at the end of November. The term "last chance" refers to the fact that the commitment period accepted by countries via the Kyoto Protocol to cut Greenhouse Gases by a certain amount expires at the end of 2012. Efforts over the past couple of years have been focused to continue such a commitment beyond this initial date, either within the existing Kyoto Protocol or within a new agreement.

After only a partially successful Copenhagen climate deal last year where the major nations settled for an annual $100 billion fund to finance the expected cost of climate change impacts for poor countries by 2020, all eyes are now turning, in an annual rhythm, to the next climate summit.

All Those Pre Meetings …

In preparation for the Cancun summit and to ensure its effectiveness, hundreds and even thousands of representatives of the world’s nations have been meeting since the beginning of the year: Between gatherings in Bonn, Germany, New York and earlier this month in Tianjin, China, environment ministry delegates have started to prepare the 12-day negotiations which are due to start on the 29th November. However, there are already mixed signs on the potential outcomes of the Mexican climate meeting.

The Tianjin preparatory discussion ended with the United States and China, the planet’s largest CO2 producers, disagreeing on some of the administrative details of measuring, tracking and, above all, verifying carbon emission reductions over time.

Voices were also heard criticizing the impracticality of a 194-nation decision making process on climate change in favor of deals amongst a smaller set of nations such as the G20 that includes not only the largest developed economies, but also countries such as India and China that are not obliged to cut emission by the Kyoto Protocol.

... But Still Not on the Same Page

Unfortunately, the United States will turn up at the Cancun meeting with not very much to show as the U.S. Senate was unable to pass any meaningful climate legislation to agree carbon emissions cuts by 2020 in time for the negotiations. Things look different on a state level. The fight between proponents of carbon emissions cuts and its opponents is currently reflected in California’s debate on so-called Proposition 23. It is a proposal to suspend California’s 2006 climate law aiming to introduce Greenhouse gas emissions measurements and reductions by 2020. Based on campaign contributions, the proponents of carbon cuts, contrary to the federal level, have raised three times more money than their opponents according to MAPLight, an organization that tracks financial contributions to political campaigns. Fortunately, not all depends on the federal Government to advance the battle against climate change.

Europe is Doing Well

Over on the European continent, the latest European Union statistics on carbon reductions look very positive. Over the past few years the EU-15 member states that signed the Kyoto Protocol at the time, show that they will reach the target of reducing CO2 emissions by 8 percent over the period 2008-12 against its 1990 baseline year - and this is despite economic growth of 45 percent over the same period.  These reductions are underpinned by a clear legislative framework.  The European Union's climate and energy package sets climate change targets up to 2020, targeting 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, 20 percent of renewable energy consumption and 20 percent improved energy efficiency. These objectives are known as the 20-20-20 targets.

Countries Take Control

For real estate investors, the more important level of action is not the global level, where nation states negotiate, but on the country levels, where laws and regulations are put in place to create coherent policy frameworks which will have direct effect on their investments and upon which they can base future decisions. So, while the World is waiting one more time for a global deal, real estate investors can already place their bets in markets where climate change legislation has been firmly introduced, such as the UK and France.

China Takes Center Stage

Even if it is not part of the carbon reduction efforts of the Kyoto protocol China has taken giant steps to have an impact on the climate change challenges: It has a market share of 30 percent of the global clean tech investments and has established itself as the number one manufacturer in the wind power sector worldwide. In its latest five-year plan, covering the period 2011-15, China set an energy target to reduce energy intensity by 15-20 percent. Its carbon target could be even more ambitious: officials have aired a goal of a 40-45 percent cut in carbon intensity by 2020, and the new five-year plan will reinforce that with an interim target for 2015. To achieve these goals, China is preparing a big spending program to boost clean energy that could reach Rmb5,000 billion ($753 billion) over the next decade.

Private Sector Drives Progress

And since the Bali climate summit in 2007, every year the leading corporations of the world have signed a supporting communiqué. They encourage negotiators at the summits to adopt an ambitious and robust international framework to tackle the climate issues. This year’s Cancun Communiqué contains for the first time the explicit demand for financial and policy support to establish energy efficiency and low-carbon energy systems in buildings.

Dan Probst is the chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services for Jones Lang LaSalle. This content is reprinted with permission.

Images CC licensed by Flickr users Scott Ableman, twicepix and Ian Muttoo.

More on this topic