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Cancun Can - and Cancun Did

It was a big surprise to everyone, since the delegates arriving at the big UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, did so with such low hopes.

A year ago, they left Copenhagen feeling defeated, worried that the whole multilateral global approach to tackling climate change was doomed to failure.

A year went by. Unprecedented floods, fires and heat-waves came and went, exactly as the science of climate change predicted. The climate-deniers’ confidence that climate change was a conspiratorial fraud grew in leaps and bounds. In November, Americans elected a Congress dominated by Republican climate-skeptics.

So what happened to change everything?

President of the conference, Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Patricia Espinoza, did not give up. She promised no surprise texts and no secret meetings. Openness, transparency and inclusiveness were to be the order of the day. Restoring a sense of trust after the debacle of Copenhagen was essential.

When the work was done, and the efforts of the groups were assembled into a single new draft, the delegates liked it so much that they gave Ms Espinoza a vociferous standing ovation. The same thing happened when the final text was presented for approval.

Bolivia objected, since the Cancun Agreement may not prevent the temperature from rising by more than 2C, but the will of the meeting was unanimous. The delegates knew this was a vitally important step forward, since it put the multilateral process back on the tracks. Better to have a process that is alive chasing a goal that is politically achievable, they agreed, than a process that is dead chasing a goal that is not achievable.

The tangible steps forward include an agreement to technology transfer, a process to protect tropical forests through carbon credit trading, and a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The real elephant in the room, however, is the damage that the oil industry funded climate-deniers have inflicted on the will to engage with the climate challenge at all.

For now, the poorly informed, trash-talking climate-deniers have sabotaged any hopes that the world’s nations will sign onto what is so urgently needed - a 25-40% reduction in our emissions by 2020, 60-80% by 2030, and 100% by 2050.

If the cherry-picking nonsense of the climate deniers can be characterized as pub-talk, and the carefully articulated warnings of the climate scientists as gown-talk, then the pubs have temporarily defeated the gowns.

But only for now.

The bizarre irrationality of the climate denial brigade - who are also opposed to everything from efficient light bulbs to high speed rail and building retrofits - must be met by the passionate rationality of the climate solutions brigade.

We need to regroup, and return to the challenge with an increased commitment to the wide array of practical solutions which will enable our civilization to make the transition to a sustainable world powered by clean, renewable energy.

Here in British Columbia, we—the BCSEA—will continue to show leadership on these many issues. One of the immediate challenges is to ensure that BC’s Liberal Party leadership candidates are well informed about the nature of the climate challenge, and motivated to continue to act on it with innovation and courage. Later in the year, the same will be needed for the NDP leadership candidates.

In California, following the resounding defeat of Proposition 26, which would have effectively ended the state’s action on global warming, the drive to accelerate climate solutions is being speeded up. Far from backing down, and abandoning our commitment to the carbon tax, cap and trade, and a 33% reduction in emissions by 2020, BC needs to join California in accelerating our actions and leadership.

This time next year, the world’s delegates will assemble in Durban, South Africa, to continue the global struggle to tackle climate change. A lot will change between now and then - and we will work our hardest to keep you informed, motivated, and part of the change.

For a full analysis of the Cancun talks, see Elizabeth May’s blog.