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13 December 2010

Ignore the Cancun Cacophony of Doom

So, Cancun produced something after all. Not an awful lot, it has to be said, but there is a definite narrowing of the agenda to a framework where more concrete actions can be worked up. The clearest sections are the $100m fund to help poorer countries cut carbon and adapt to climate change, and the forestry package (known as REDD) to help preserve forests. Everybody seems relieved that progress has been made - only Bolivia and a handful of NGOs are throwing their hands up in despair - saying the world has failed once again.

These professional negativists are never happy - ignore them. When my city of Newcastle was awarded 'UK's most sustainable city' by Forum for the Future for the second time, the local Green Party didn't even mention it in their newsletter (which they send me). When I challenged them, they said they believed it showed we were 'least bad' - OK you could argue that, but surely such progress was worth a mention by a group for whom sustainability is the raison d'être. I rather suggest that they are hiding from an inconvenient truth - that environmental purism doesn't deliver whereas environmental pragmatism does.

And I know I keep banging on about it, but slow international progress doesn't preclude fast local or organisational progress. And here too pragmatism and optimism rule the day. Ignore the doomsters, or better still, get them involved so they can understand the real messy world of imperfection in which the rest of us have to operate. Then they might get real.

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10 December 2010

Softly, softly at Cancun...

It's been quite hard to get a real feel for progress at the COP16 climate change negotiations in Cancun this week, but the overall impression has been slow progress on a number of issues and a more reasoned debate over some of the bigger issues. This contrasts starkly with the high stakes game played by national leaders and environmental groups in Copenhagen this time last year - which famously ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

The softly, softly approach has a number of advantages. Minor disputes are not exaggerated by a story-hungry media and can be deftly resolved. Small wins create forward momentum and a positive atmosphere which can help unlock trickier conundrums. Progress can be made without the often destructive interference of either the NGO or libertarian/denial camps, one shrieking the clock is ticking and less than 100% success is failure, the other shrieking that the whole thing is a recipe for economic suicide/communism.

However, I'm still of the view that a world-wide single binding agreement is an impossible ideal. What works in Washington is unlikely to work in Kuala Lumpur and vice versa. There is nothing to stop individual nations cutting their own carbon and shifting to a low carbon economy. Furthermore, the big economies along with their huge corporations, have such global reach that the power to act is actually in relatively few hands. Destructive companies in the primary industries like forestry or oil extraction can only operate if they have customers willing to buy their produce.

Business has the power if they step up to the plate.

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