The Cancun Agreement, adopted by the vast majority of parties at the United Nations climate change conference (COP16) in the early morning hours of 11 December 2010, has been described as giving "guarded hope" to churches and civil society groups who have called for decisive action by the world's governments.
In an improvement on the process that led to the much-criticised Copenhagen Accord last year, the president of the conference managed to keep the climate negotiations on the multilateral track and make some, although insufficient, steps forward, they say.
"Representatives of governments could not afford a failure like the one in Copenhagen. The Cancun Agreement shows we are back on track. The demands from the civil society and the churches have been heard. Now, we need to continue advocating for a just, ambitious and binding treaty", affirmed Dr Guillermo Kerber, programme executive on climate change for the World Council of Churches (WCC).
"The WCC will continue to work towards fair and meaningful international action through the ecumenical Time for Climate Justice alliance and as a partner in the Global Campaign for Climate Action (TckTckTck)," he added.
The negotiations started in a very difficult atmosphere, when Japan said it would not agree to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.
The Protocol was drawn up in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to implement the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change. It was the first global legally binding contract to reduce greenhouse gases.
Some delegations at the Cancun talks, including negotiators for Russia and the United States, continued to oppose the proposal to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a more ambitious agreement. Major developing economies, like Brazil, China and India, whose CO2 emissions are increasing, pointed out steps they are taking to reduce the carbon intensity of their economic output.
One important outcome of the Cancun meeting was the establishment of a "climate fund" that will support especially the most vulnerable countries as they seek to adapt to the worst consequences of climate change.
For the first three years, the World Bank was appointed as trustee of the fund – a decision that has been strongly criticised by developing countries and civil society representatives. However, developing countries will be represented in significant number on the fund's board, ensuring that the fund delivers what is needed.
The struggle for a binding international treaty continues. The UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011 will probably be the last opportunity to agree on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.
However, Japan and Russia, at least in Cancun, expressed they are not willing to agree on new targets. An inevitable gap is therefore foreseen between the first commitment period, ending at the end of 2011 and a second one.
“The ecumenical delegation at COP16 in Cancun leaves this year happier than it left from COP 15 in Copenhagen last year”, Kerber added.
Christian organisations such as Caritas, the WCC and the international ecumenical aid group ACT Alliance joined efforts in lobbying, organising an inter-religious celebration and a side event. The ecumenical Time for Climate Justice campaign was very visible on the premises where the negotiations took place as well as during a protest march in the streets of Cancun.
People from inside and outside the Christian community have raised the question why churches are represented at the climate change negotiations. In a joint declaration, the delegations of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to the COP16 explain that "The core of churches' engagement is to remind the negotiators that beyond the technical aspects of mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and funding, there is an ethical responsibility which ought not to be overlooked."
The declaration continues that, with ethical principles often being overlooked or ignored in the turmoil of negotiations, it is a "moral obligation for the churches and faith communities" to call for justice and to convey a message of hope.
As the negotiations concluded, the NASA revealed that 2010 is set to be the hottest year since 1880, when the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began recording climate data.
"In terms of debate, 2011 will be a hotter year as awareness raising and advocacy continue over the year towards COP17 in Durban, where churches in Africa have already started a process of preparation," said Kerber.