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Cancun: The chihuahua that roared

Richard Black | 11:29 UK time, Saturday, 11 December 2010

If Copenhagen was the Great Dane that whimpered, Cancun has been the chihuahua that roared.

And what a surprise it was.Pablo Solon

Before the summit, expectations were so low that simply keeping the UN show on the road was all many observers (and some players) thought possible.

In the late morning of the final day, I came across Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh explaining to a couple of delegates that "this process is dead".

Yet half a day later, Cancun produced almost global consensus on words that spell out a need to step up, urgently, action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement here "affirms that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time".

It "recognises that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science", and that countries should "take urgent action" to meet the goal of holding the increase in global temperatures below 2C, measured against pre-industrial times.

It establishes mechanisms for transferring funds from rich countries to poor and helping them to spend it well on climate protection, acknowledging the rich world's historical responsibility for climate change.

It sets out parameters for reducing emissions from deforestation and for transferring clean technology from the west to the rest,

Achieving this needed a couple of fudges.

The US partly achieved its main priorities - giving the World Bank first go at running the big new fund, and having some degree of international monitoring on China's emissions - but the wording also allows China and other developing countries to escape with their sovereignity, as they see it, unaffected.

And Japan and Russia have been given a way to slide away from the Kyoto Protocol while maintaining the pledges they made around the Copenhagen summit.

Given the constraints of time, Copenhagen's legacy of mistrust and the domestic political concerns of countries from Japan to the US to India, this is much more than anyone had expected.

The back stories of how these deals are made are always long, involved and - at this timescale - untold.

But clearly the Mexican host government constructed a process that sought to include everyone, and that addressed the really knotty issues in small groups of interested parties, and kept at it until a way through was found.

Unlike Copenhagen, there was listening as well as talking.

So that's the roar.

However, if the agreement here acknowledges the need for deeper and faster emission curbs, it doesn't provide a visible way to achieve them - merely "urging" rich countries to do more.

The Kyoto Protocol text itself is still full of square brackets and options - on many, many issues.

And some of the important, tough details have been kicked into the long grass - notably, the issue of "legal form" - whether the next climate agreement should seek to be legally-binding or not.

So in terms of the most vital question for any climate accord - how much will it contribute to restricting man-made climate change? - you would have to answer, not as far as to meet the needs that it identifies.

But in the view of many observers here, it's laid the foundations for the comprehensive agreement they want.

Eyes now turn to Durban in South Africa, where next year's summit will be held.

In a sense, that's the last chance to get further targets under the Kyoto Protocol agreed, because the current targets run to 2012 only.

Building the deal that's desired by small island states, African nations, other "vulnerable" developing countries, the EU and many environmental groups won't be easy - far from it. There are many political obstacles on that road.

But the dog is rescuscitated and up and running... we'll see how far it goes.

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