News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

What Happened (and Why): An Assessment of the Cancun Agreements

| Dec. 13, 2010

The international climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, have concluded, and despite the gloom-and-doom predictions that dominated the weeks and months leading up to Cancun, the Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) must be judged a success.  It represents a set of modest steps forward.  Nothing more should be expected from this process.

As I said in my November 19th essay — Defining Success for Climate Negotiations in Cancun — the key challenge was to continue the process of constructing a sound foundation for meaningful, long-term global action (not necessarily some notion of immediate, highly-visible triumph).  This was accomplished in Cancun.

The Cancun Agreements - as the two key documents ("Outcome of the AWG-LCA" and "Outcome of the AWG-KP") are called — do just what was needed, namely build on the structure of the Copenhagen Accord with a balanced package that takes meaningful steps toward implementing the key elements of the Accord.  The delegates in Cancun succeeded in writing and adopting an agreement that assembles pledges of greenhouse gas (GHG) cuts by all of the world's major economies, launches a fund to help the most vulnerable countries, and avoids some political landmines that could have blown up the talks, namely decisions on the (highly uncertain) future of the Kyoto Protocol.

I begin by assessing the key elements of the Cancun Agreements.  Then I examine whether the incremental steps forward represented by the Agreements should really be characterized as a success.  And finally I ask why the negotiations in Cancun led to the outcome they did.

Continue reading on Robert Stavins' blog, An Economic View of the Environment >

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For Academic Citation: Stavins, Robert N.. “What Happened (and Why): An Assessment of the Cancun Agreements.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, December 13, 2010.

The Author

Robert N. Stavins