Cancun Climate Summit, part 1


A crowd gathers in front of Copenhagen’s Bela Center  in 2009 where the COP15 talks took place. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is now underway in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 to December 10. The conference, also known as COP16/CMP6, represents the 16th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and the 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP).


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992 and came into force in March of 1994. It is ratified by 194 parties. The purpose of the Framework is to acknowledge among nations the shared interest in climate change mitigation and preparedness for any inevitable rises in temperature.

One outcome of the COP is 1997’s Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol went a step further than the Framework by setting legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions among 37 industrialized nation signatories and the European Union, representing an average pledge of five per cent reductions against 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. As of November 2010, 192 states have ratified. The United States has never ratified or put the Protocol into force, although it remains a part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This Year’s Conference

Expectations for the COP16 appear to be cautious, if not low. The Conference is hosting about 15,000 participants- just a fraction of the 50,000 strong delegation that turned out to Copenhagen’s COP15 in 2009. Facing down the disappointing lack of accord in the Copenhagen talks, the continued strife in the global economy and not much hype from the media, the Cancun talks have their work cut out.

Below is a link round-up of early developments and perspectives on the talks:

Cancun and the new economics of climate change,  U.K. Guardian

Cancun climate change summit: America plays tough, U.K. Guardian

Climate Change Conference begins in Mexico, Voice of America

Cancun’s First Goal: Do Better than Copenhagen, Time Magazine

Watch live and on-demand webcasts of the conference at the UNFCCC website, here.

Visit the U.K. Guardian’s Interactive Timeline of Climate Talks, here.

Cap and Trade


This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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photo credit: David Iliff, Wikimedia Commons

Cap and Trade (C&T) is also known as “pollution credits” or “emissions trading”. The basic premise of C&T is to provide a means for reaching mandatory pollution reduction targets in an incremental (and thus cost-saving) fashion. In a cap and trade system model, a regulatory entity (typically a governmental body) will assign a limit to the amount of pollution that certain high-impact industries can emit. High polluters can then essentially raise the ceiling on their allowable limits by engaging in a specialized market activity, i.e., buying shares or credits from those others who operate below their allowable limits. The regulatory limits are the “cap” and the market activity is the “trade”.

C&T activity is thus designed to reward those industries and companies that are aggressively exceeding their environmental performance goals, while charging a premium to those who do not stay within their assignations (because they have to purchase credits to make up for their overage). The idea is that purchasing pollution credits will literally buy time for polluters to clean up their act, and indeed a C&T program may include “caps” that step down over time to meet tighter standards.

While C&T is not limited to “greenhouse gas emissions” or carbon dioxide, the specialized trading done around these types of pollutants is one common example, and is referred to as a carbon market. Global carbon markets have taken off hugely among European and other nations that have signed the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997, in force as of 2005) pledging targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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