COP16 Cancún Climate Talks: Everything You Need to Know

Expectations for the Cancún climate talks in were low. Thankfully, outcomes surpassed expectations.

The Cancún climate talks have wrapped up with some surprising optimism and positivity. At COP16, parties collectively agreed to put aside for awhile the thornier issues—like specific emissions reductions targets and the "common but differentiated responsibilities" of developing and developed nations—that have long caused utter stalemate in the UNFCCC. Delegates approved, with necessary consensus, a set of decisions that formally recognize emissions pledges, create a Green Climate Fund, and launch a process to reduce deforestation in the tropics.

I say "necessary consensus," but the Bolivian delegation actually never supported the measure. In fact, some are saying that the COP chair's willingness to push these decisions through without unanimous consensus is a sign that the UNFCCC body actually is agile enough to be productive.

The so-called Cancún Agreements are actually two interim agreements: one that extends the Kyoto Protocol, and another that takes basic elements of the much-maligned Copenhagen Accord, and imports them into the official UNFCCC body.

This surely comes across as something of a "win" for the U.S. delegation, which a year ago basically force fed the Copenhagen Accord down throats around the world.

That said, reactions around the world have been pretty upbeat, from leaders and advocates alike. Expectations, of course, for the U.N. climate talks in Cancun were low, which helps explains the near universally positive reaction.

Alex Stark, who has been tracking the negotiations for TckTckTck, gave this telling account of the mood in the room when the decisions were agreed upon:

It’s hard to explain how exciting it felt to be in that room. We may not be making the deal here that saves the planet, but in the world of UN climate negotiations, near-unanimous agreement between developing and developed countries, applause and even spontaneous cheering are really quite unprecedented. For the first time since the Copenhagen conference one year ago, I’m genuinely confident that this process can prove to the world that it can be successful.


On Time's Ecocentric blog, Bryan Walsh pens a useful post breaking down five lessons we learned from Cancun. In short: multilateralism ain't dead; China is playing ball; Copenhagen's failures made Cancun's success possible; the focus is on forests; and, remember, the deal isn't all that great.

My bottom line takeaway is that Cancún proved that the UNFCCC could still be relevant, but they're going to need to achieve a heck of a lot more in South Africa at COP17 next year.

Enough from me. Here are some reactions from experts and advocates around the world:

Union of Concerned Scientists Director of Strategy and Policy Alden Meyer:

The outcome in Cancún wasn’t enough to save the climate, but it did restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made.


Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs:

Negotiators have resuscitated the UN talks and put them on a road to recovery. This deal shows the UN negotiations can deliver. There is now hope for action to help the millions of poor people who are already struggling to survive the effects of climate change.

With lives on the line, we must now build on this progress. Long-term funding must be secured so the Climate Fund can start to deliver, helping vulnerable communities protect themselves for the climate impacts of today and tomorrow.

Gordon Shepherd, head of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative:

After Copenhagen governments came to Cancun bruised and facing public pressure to act on climate change. It was hoped that Cancun could establish a platform for progress, and now countries are leaving with a renewed sense of goodwill and some sense of purpose.

We need to see additional leadership from the European Union (EU) and other countries such as India and China on the legal form of an outcome. The EU and other countries need to also increase their mitigation commitments to close the gap between current emissions reduction pledges and what is required to reach their shared goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C.

The United States got off relatively easy in Cancun, failing to agree to robust reporting and review for its own actions. To build trust in the year ahead, the US should embark on a clear process to pull together its domestic efforts to reduce emissions into a transparent action plan that will put it on the road to a clean energy economy. The United States should then come to Durban ready to join the world in support of a legally binding agreement.

Jennifer Haverkamp, managing director of EDF's international climate program:

The conference pushed forward a modest, but important package of climate initiatives. The U.N. has now put its seal of approval on compensating countries for protecting their forests. And Mexico's skillful leadership here has helped to rebuild confidence in the UN process.

The overall outcome represents only a fraction of what's needed. Despite the best efforts by many countries, glaciers are still melting faster than this process is moving.

Nick Mabey, CEO of E3G:

This is a lifeline for the international climate talks. The Cancun package provides the green shoots which can grow into a global deal. Cancun was always going to be a staging post on the road to a final outcome. After the disappointment in Copenhagen, this year was about injecting political energy and reaching agreement on key mechanisms. On both counts Cancun has scored well.

This proves that all those who doubted the multilateral system were completely wrong. The UNFCCC is back at the heart of shaping the global response to climate change.


Joe Mendelson, global warming policy director of the National Wildlife Federation:

Progress was made on a number of important issues, but it’s clear the Senate’s failure to pass clean energy legislation tied the hands of negotiators to come to a full global deal. Formally recognizing the Copenhagen reduction targets – including the U.S. 17 percent reductions by 2020 - still leaves the world woefully short of what needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis.


BlueGreen Alliance executive director David Foster:

After two weeks of negotiations, a balanced path has been put forward, including progress on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, adaptation to climate change, technology transfer, the development of a green climate fund, and — most importantly — measuring, reporting and verification. In addition, the inclusion of just transition and decent work in the Shared Vision is a critical factor in a global climate agreement to ensure that this transition to a clean energy economy preserves and creates good jobs.


Christoph Bals, political director at Germanwatch:

We have seen though that the consensus-based process within the UN alone will not be able to channel the necessary dynamic in international climate politics with a US administration more or less incapable of action. Further dynamics have to be reached through additional frontrunner coalitions among countries, communities and businesses. Acting, negotiating and building coalitions is the essential triptych.


Finally, if you would like even more nuance, check out the OneClimate interview with Antonio Hill of Oxfam, an international climate policy expert whose perspective I very much trust and admire:


Photo by Alex Stark for Adopt a Negotiator

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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