Demonstrators in Cancun. Photo: Israel Leal/Scanpix

Climate talks in Cancun seen as "very inefficient"

UN climate change conference in Cancun "had a happy ending"
5:21 min

With the Kyoto protocol due to expire next year, and 2010 on record as one of the hottest years in history, international efforts to fight global warming seem to be more urgent than ever. How do Swedish interests feel about the UN's climate change conference in Cancun this past December? And can Swedes agree on what should happen next? A recent debate hosted by the EU commission in Sweden gave Swedish political and economic interests a chance to weigh in.

Anders Turesson played the part of Sweden's chief negotiator in Cancun. He says it was an intense and cumbersome process, but he says, "It had a happy ending . . . we did get an agreement." But he admits that many might be questioning whether progress really was made.

The story of Cancun actually begins more than a year ago, when the UN held its climate change conference in Copenhagen. For a number of reasons, the summit failed to produce a meaningful accord, and the result was a watered down and non-binding agreement to cut emissions.

So, Cancun was in part an effort to save face and prove that the UN climate talks are still worthwhile. Indeed, negotiators reached an agreement, but it meant they had to lower their ambitions dramatically.

The Cancun agreements outlined a fund to help poor countries deal with climate change. They also targetted deforestation, which is a big source of global emissions.

As far as Sweden's role was concerned, Turesson said it played a big part as one of the EU countries pushing the talks forward. But he said what's maybe even more important is that Sweden sets an example. The country has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by some 14 percent.

But Maria Sunér Fleming from the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and other business interests complain that the EU is shouldering most of the responsibility for carbon costs. She and others say that a common price for carbon use is needed.

"It's okay as long as you're only exporting to other European countries, but as soon as you start exporting on a more global market, that is problematic, because it generates higher costs for companies producing in Sweden or in Europe."

"I'm pessimistic about the negotiation process," says Svante Axelsson, secretary general of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. He says that while the international target is to make sure global temperatures rise no more than 2 degrees Celsius, the reduction agreements are not enough to achieve that.

Based on Sweden's and Europe's experience, Axelsson says that it's easier than people think to reduce dependence on coal.

Martin Ådahl, director of the liberal and green-minded FORES think tank, says that the UN negotiations have been "very very inefficient." He complains that they are not making enough progress. "There are too many countries involved, because there are too weak institutions to back up the decisions," says Ådahl.

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