Last Chance for Climate Action in Cancun

Here in Cancun, it’s been a long two weeks of negotiations, meetings, discussions and disagreements. Negotiators have been working such long hours trying to craft a positive outcome from this meeting that I doubt any of them even knows there is a beach anywhere nearby.

As we go into the last few exhausting but critical hours of the negotiations, we need to figure out how to move forward. Climate change will not wait for political perfection. During the past two weeks of negotiations alone, almost 650,000 hectares (1.6 million acres) of tropical forests have been destroyed, along with their capacity to sequester carbon and provide habitats for an almost endless variety of life. To put this loss into perspective, that’s a forest more than 100 times the size of Manhattan gone in two weeks. How long is this rate of destruction sustainable?

Obviously, the issues here in Cancun are about more than just forests, but stopping deforestation (or REDD+ as it’s known in the parlance of these negotiations) is a decision that is ready to be made here and is being held up for political reasons. A positive REDD+ decision that is equitable, ambitious and robust would add legitimacy to this U.N. process and act as a springboard for broader action on other critical issues, such as adaptation, finance and broad mitigation action.

There has been much criticism about this process and how slowly it moves — or how quickly it halts — based on the political agenda of a single country. Some of that may be true. At some point, the leaders in Cancun need to decide how long they will wait before they act and pursue other options on the table to move forward. We can’t wait any longer. If we wait another year, too many more people will suffer, and we will be talking about monthly forest losses the size of countries, not cities.

Manuel Oliva is the director of U.S. policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government.

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