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The Long and Winding Road of Climate Change

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BY Stuart Sexton
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

One thing is for sure at the climate change negotiations in Cancun: A lot of time is spent riding back a forth on buses. Taking the bus between the two meeting locations in Cancun is a lot like the official negotiations themselves. They are rather slow and repetitive, and every once in a while you have to brake for an unexpected iguana in the road, but every time you get back from where you were, the climate change agreement picture becomes a little bit clearer. 

The climate negotiations in Cancun have come a long way since the first UNFCCC conference in 1992. Much has been learned about what works and what doesn't, and we are to the point where the parties are working out the details. The negotiations in Cancun are reaching the midway point of this year's conference and it is clear that some progress is occurring, but that no binding agreement will be reached. 

Listening to the delegates negotiate over such seemingly benign details as the placement of commas and the correct definition of two very similar words underscores that it is largely about the details now.  Besides Japan saying that they will not sign a new binding agreement, most countries are pushing for the next Kyoto Protocol.  This may come next year in Durban, South Africa at COP 17. In the past, some countries have been happy with where the negotiations were at and some were not. This year, though, it seems like nobody is particularly pleased with where the negotiations are, relative to their individual interests. This may be a very good sign that a middle ground is being reached; a middle ground precariously located between 193 very vocal nations. This is so because it indicates that countries are beginning to compromise on some issues in order to get what they want on others, and so they are not particularly pleased, but not particularly displeased either.
Time will tell whether all the riding back and forth is sufficient enough for everyone on the bus to see a clear enough picture that leads to a binding agreement. There may be a few more iguanas lurking in the shadows, and even a few South African antelope too, but the end of the road may be closer than we think.

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