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Building blocks to green treaty

Nations reach series of agreements

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CANCUN, Mexico -- The international community has reached a consensus on the building blocks for a legally binding treaty on global warming that could dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions, senior Canadian government officials said Saturday.

Following a marathon negotiating session at the annual United Nations climate-change summit, which was extended at this tropical Mexican resort by an extra day, Canadian Environment Minister John Baird and Canada's climate-change ambassador, Guy Saint-Jacques, said the agreements reached represent a "modest, reasonable" outcome to the two weeks of discussions.

But Baird said the international community will have to work very hard to ensure all major polluting countries are on board for a future deal that will ensure global emissions peak within the next decade and eventually decline.

"This represents the first step to a single, new legally binding agreement," Baird told reporters. "A first step."

The irony: As negotiators from nearly 200 countries met in Cancun to strategize ways to keep the planet from getting hotter, the temperature in the seaside Mexican city plunged to a 100-year record low of 12.2 C.

Climate-change skeptics are gleefully calling Cancun's weather the latest example of the "Gore Effect" -- a plunge in temperature they say occurs wherever former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, now a Nobel Prize-winning environmental activist, makes a speech about the climate. Although Gore is not scheduled to speak in Cancun, "it could be that the Gore Effect has announced his secret arrival," joked former NASA scientist Roy W. Spencer.

The agreements "recognized" previous individual goals from the nearly 200 countries at the table, but did not adopt any legally binding targets.

Following the disappointment of last year's summit in Copenhagen, which failed to reach a binding agreement to extend commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, negotiators said the new package would allow them to finally move forward.

"Cancun has done its job. The beacon of hope has been reignited, and faith in the multilateral climate-change process to deliver results has been restored," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"Nations have shown they can work together under a common roof to reach consensus on a common cause," she said.

Climate scientists have concluded global emissions must be dramatically slashed within years to prevent global warming and its consequences from seriously damaging the Earth's ecosystems and biodiversity.

The "Cancun agreements" call for deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to limit the rise of average global temperatures by two degrees Celsius.

The conference also established new frameworks for funds to deploy new technology and support vulnerable countries, as well as new initiatives to preserve forests and prevent emissions linked to deforestation.

The agreements will now officially recognize new targets of industrialized countries under a process that will require them all to develop low-carbon or climate-change strategies.

-- Postmedia News / theweek.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2010 A16

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