In Cancun, Mexico, negotiators from more than 190 countries at a United Nations conference reached an accord Saturday for dealing with climate change. Reporters for the New York Times and Britain’s Guardian called the pact “modest,” but other news organizations used the word “breakthrough.”
[Related: Perspectives on the Cancun agreement – excerpts from reports by news organizations in several nations]
A day earlier in Washington, a federal appeals court gave a green light to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to start regulating industrial emissions of greenhouse gases in January. (NASA reported that same day that 2010 is on track to be the warmest year, in terms of average global temperatures, since data collection started in the late 19th century.)
Texas is one of the parties seeking to stop the EPA rules in court and also stands alone among the states in refusing to implement them. That means the EPA will almost certainly step in to enforce the regulations for Texas industries unless state officials surprisingly shift course in the next few weeks.
The Cancun accord came roughly a year after what was widely seen as the lackluster result of a similar negotiating conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, for which climate-action advocates had very high hopes.
According to the Times:
The [Cancun] agreement fell well short of the broad changes scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous climate change in coming decades. But it lays the groundwork for stronger measures in the future, if nations are able to overcome the emotional arguments that have crippled climate change negotiations in recent years.
The package known as the Cancun Agreements gives the more than 190 countries participating in the conference another year to decide whether to extend the frayed Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that requires most wealthy nations to trim their emissions while providing assistance to developing countries to pursue a cleaner energy future.
The agreement is not a legally binding treaty, but the success of these talks allows the process to seek a more robust accord at next year’s climate conference in Durban, South Africa.
The agreement sets up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, creates new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provides compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the last United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen last year.
The Guardian reported:
The agreement, which took four years to negotiate, should help to prevent deforestation, promote the transfer of low-carbon technologies to developing countries and, by 2020, establish a green fund, potentially worth $100 billion (£63 billion) a year, to shield the more vulnerable countries from climate change.
However, governments failed to reach agreement on how far overall global emissions should be cut, and there are many loopholes for countries to avoid making the deep reductions that scientists say are needed.
Researchers from the Climate Action Tracker said the pledges would set the world on course for 3.2C [5.75F] warming – a catastrophe for many of the poorest countries. But the deal was greeted enthusiastically by Chris Huhne, Britain’s energy secretary. “This is way better than what we were expecting only a few weeks ago. This is a significant turning point. It clearly says that there should be reductions from developing countries. It takes us forward to a legally binding overall outcome,” he said.
The EPA’s regulatory push to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions from large industrial plants when they are constructed or upgraded is an Obama administration initiative, independent of any international agreement. Although the Clinton administration signed the Kyoto pact, it was never submitted to the Senate for ratification and therefore has no force in this country.
Texas, leading emitter of greenhouse gases among the states, is home to many power plants, refineries and other facilities that the EPA rules will affect. Attorney General Greg Abbott has joined other parties, including industry groups, in challenging the validity of the science underlying the EPA’s finding that human-caused climate change is harmful and in arguing that the regulations’ costs will be onerous.
That legal fight will continue, since the ruling on Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia simply rejected the opponents’ request to temporarily halt the regulations until their lawsuit can receive a full judicial review.
The three-judge appeals court panel ruled that Texas and the other challengers had not met the “stringent standards” for such a stay, specifically that they “have not shown that the harms they allege are ‘certain,’ rather than speculative, or that the ‘alleged harm[s]’ will directly result from the action[s]'” they sought to block.
The Houston Chronicle reported:
“You can say anything you want in a press release or a two-page lobbying letter to Congress,” [David] Doniger [climate policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports] said. “But when you go to court, you have to prove your case, and they didn’t. These cases were brought to dress up a political argument.”
Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administrator based in Dallas, called the decision “a victory for science, clean air and Louisiana’s wetlands,” which are vulnerable to rising sea levels due in part to global warming.
Texas officials expressed disappointment but said they are confident in their case as it proceeds through the court.
“Texas will do everything in its power to defeat the threat these misguided policies impose upon our state’s energy industry and the thousands of jobs it sustains, not to mention the cost they will inflict on Texas families,” said Catherine Frazier, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Perry. “Ultimately, we believe Texas will prevail.”
– Bill Dawson