The Cancun Summit ended on Saturday morning just as the Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen did last year. It raised many hopes and then failed to reach a binding agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Not much was expected given the background and the strong opposition of some countries to sign any binding agreement. Nevertheless, the modest agreement has been hailed as a success. The agreement covers the creation of a Green Climate Fund, measures to protect rainforests and the transfer of clean technologies and more resources for developing countries. However, it leaves out the fundamental issue: a measurable and verifiable commitment to reduce emissions.

It is true that the need to keep the temperature from exceeding two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial times has been reaffirmed. However, that goal is not attainable without the means to fight its cause, which is none other than addressing the massive use of fossil fuels for energy. The Kyoto Protocol required developed countries to reduce GHG emissions, with the exception of a few, who did not accept it. Notably, the U.S., which is the country with the highest emissions per capita in the world, opposes any action that may damage its economy. The current agenda is to continue to pursue this type of reduction commitments from rich countries, with the eventual inclusion of the U.S. and China. Neither of these two countries is working hard toward achieving that goal. Obama's proposal, to reduce its emissions by 17 percent* by 2020 as compared to the year 2005, is much more modest than Europe’s, which is to reduce by 20 or 30 percent in 2020 as compared to 1990. Obama’s proposal has not yet been ratified by Congress since the Republican triumph in the last election. Such a ratification now seems more distant.

Climate change is one of the most formidable challenges that humanity must face in the near future, but its nature makes it difficult to manage. Preventive measures include increasing the role of renewable energy, lowering the use of energy in our economies and having a transportation system that is less dependent on oil. Only if the U.S. and China accept their responsibility can we reach effective agreements. Hopefully things will be different next summit, in 2011 in Durban.

*Translator's note: I checked to see if the figures for this story were accurate because I thought I had found a discrepancy, but it turns out that they are correct. Obama had a proposal of 17 percent for the Copenhagen summit, but it seems that there was also a 28 percent figure as a pledge for reductions within the federal government, i.e. targeted at government-run operations. The 17 percent reduction is for the nation as a whole.