Outcomes of Cancun Climate Conference (The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP's Oral Statement to Parliament)

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the outcome of the United Nations climate conference in Cancun. The House will remember the disappointment…

Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the outcome of the United Nations climate conference in Cancun.

The House will remember the disappointment of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, and in particular its failure to agree a comprehensive and legally binding global treaty to supplement or replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Expectations for the Cancun conference were not high. After Copenhagen, it seemed as if the very principle of multilateralism itself was on trial.

Our objectives, therefore, were modest. We aimed to demonstrate that the UN process was back on track. We also hoped to put in place some of the building blocks for an eventual global agreement. To rebuild momentum.

I am delighted to say that our expectations were not just met, but exceeded. The conference agreed a series of linked decisions under both its tracks: the Kyoto Protocol, and the framework for reaching a new and more comprehensive agreement. Emissions reduction pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord, by both developed and developing countries, provided a valuable starting point and have been brought into the UN climate convention framework. We can now assess the overall policy pledges against the requirements of the science.

These decisions provide a solid foundation for further work. For the first time, there is an international commitment to ‘deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions’ to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. This includes processes for adopting targets for peaking emissions as soon as possible, and substantially reducing them by 2050.

The conference also adopted decisions to develop systems for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions and actions in line with countries’ commitments. This is essential to confidence in each other’s actions. Developing countries will get access to low-carbon technology and help with adaptation to climate change. Market-based mechanisms will be considered to deliver effective reductions in emissions at least cost.

Forestry was a key area. The conference agreed the framework for ‘REDD plus’: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, through which developing countries will be paid for keeping trees standing rather than logging them. The conference also made progress on rules for accounting for land use, land use change and forestry under the Kyoto Protocol; an issue that was too difficult to be settled at Kyoto and has remained problematic ever since.

The conference also agreed the establishment of a Green Climate Fund to support policies and activities in developing countries. The Fund will be governed by a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries, and its finances will be managed by the World Bank. A transitional committee will be established to design the institutions and operations of the Fund, and we aim to see that make rapid progress. The conference endorsed the commitment made by developed countries at Copenhagen to mobilise at least $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

The conference did not settle the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and nor did it adopt a new and more comprehensive treaty incorporating all countries. Neither outcome was realistically possible this year. Nevertheless, the agreements reached at Cancun represent a very significant step forward, particularly given that it seemed possible, even as late as last Thursday, that the conference would break up over precisely that issue. In the end, every country represented there, with the exception only of Bolivia, felt able to support the outcomes.

There remains much to do in the run-up to the 2011 climate conference in Durban. Given the outcome of Cancun, however, we can be far more confident than seemed possible just a few weeks ago.

I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the government of Mexico, which was responsible for hosting and chairing the conference. The diplomatic skill, political courage and dogged determination of Foreign Minister Espinosa and her team was responsible in very large part for its success. I was happy to be able to support her in co-chairing some of the negotiating groups which addressed the key issues.

I also wish to pay tribute to the British team of negotiators. Even though our delegation was one of the smallest of those of the G8 countries, its members played a key role in many of the detailed negotiating groups, often leading for the EU. The climate diplomacy carried out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the year leading up to the conference clearly helped to lay the groundwork for a successful conclusion.

Tackling climate change should transcend party politics. Britain has built a strong reputation internationally as a forward-looking country and I want to thank my predecessor for his work in helping to achieve this. I was also pleased to be able to include in the UK delegation representatives of the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, the coalition government is determined to tackle the accelerating threat of climate change. We intend to demonstrate how a successful and prosperous low-carbon economy can be developed in the UK and EU, providing employment, exports and energy security - and reducing emissions. The Energy Bill published last week, and the consultation paper on electricity market reform later this week are key components.

So too is the adoption of a more ambitious target for reducing EU carbon emissions, and in that context I welcome the Spanish government’s recent declaration of support for a 30% reduction by 2020. We are pressing for an ambitious package of measures to be agreed by EU leaders in February next year, to create the infrastructure and incentives for a faster move to a low carbon economy within Europe.

On the international front, we will build on this momentum at Cancun. There is much still to be achieved, but we can now look forward with renewed optimism to the Durban conference next year. As the representative of one NGO said, ‘Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate’. That is true - but in saving the process, it represents a triumph for the spirit of international cooperation in tackling an international threat. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming that.