While expectations for last year’s climate change talks in Copenhagen were inflated, hope for the United Nations’ climate meeting in Mexico is already low.
This time last year the world’s focus was on the Copenhagen summit, which was supposed to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
Expectations were high but they were thoroughly dashed.
Now climate negotiators are heading to the Mexican resort town of Cancun for the annual UN talks and some experts are warning global climate talks risk disintegrating altogether.
Climate Group chief executive Mark Kenber says there is no chance of a legally binding agreement in Cancun.
“That was the big hope in Copenhagen last year and it was clear there really wasn’t the concerted political will to reach a legal treaty then, and I think the same is the case now, perhaps even less so,” he said.
This past year has seen Australia and the United States back away from carbon trading, while South Korea and China are considering introducing their own emissions trading schemes.
Nick Rowley, the director of consultancy firm Kinesis, was at last year’s meeting as part of the Copenhagen Climate Council.
He says 2010 has been a confused year.
“Sadly, if you look at some of the NASA analysis, it looks like 2010 is going to prove to be the warmest year on record,” he said.
“That’s the most serious thing we’ve got to be focusing on is that the level risk associated by this problem doesn’t look as if it’s going to be any less.
“There’s been an enormous northern heatwave and in Russia that has led to a decision by the Russian government not to export any grain.
“They’re the second largest grain exporter in the world. That affects food prices. So it’s not just an environmental problem. It’s actually a problem that is actually hitting our capacity to feed the world.”
Yet Mr Kenber says the lack of a global deal has not stopped some countries from tackling climate change on their own or bilaterally.
“While progress at international level is faltering at best, at the national level there have been incredible advances,” he said.
“We saw both China and India set targets for themselves. The US made its commitment to reducing its emissions by 17 per cent. The European Union committed itself to a 20 per cent target.
“We’ve also seen a lot of domestic action. So there’s been a lot happening on the ground despite the lack of an international agreement.”
There have already been some bilateral deals on climate change this year.
For example, Norway promised $1 billion to Indonesia to stop emissions from cutting down rainforests.
Mr Rowley says countries, regions, cities and even businesses can make progress on their own.
“My view is much of that bilateral action could actually be built towards informing the way in which a global response can be properly designed and calibrated,” he said.
“I think that’s the way to look at it. It’s not either or, it’s both.”
Bill Hare is the chief executive of Climate Analytics and a visiting scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
He is in Cancun and says a global set of rules negotiated through the UN is critical.
“We need a multilateral process so we’ve got common rules for reporting emissions so everyone is on the same playing field, otherwise we’ll have countries electing to do things which don’t really work,” he said.
“We need a multilateral system also to get the level of ambition needed to reduce emissions fast enough to keep warming below two degrees.”
Mr Hare says fears the talks could dissipate are valid.
“I think complete disintegration is definitely a possibility. If the process keeps on going the way it’s been performing, I think it becomes an inevitability not just a possibility,” he said.
“I think the reasons for that are quite complicated. My perspective would be that essentially this is a conflict between the US and China.”
Mr Hare says if the US takes another five years to sign up to a Kyoto-style treaty then the rest of the world should simply go it alone.
But while countries continue to wait for each other to move first, hope that next year’s conference in South Africa will produce a new climate deal are already fading.