Legislation: The Cancun Agreements


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The United Nations Climate Change Conference,1 held in Cancun, Mexico from 29 November to 11 December 2010, restored faith in the multilateral climate change process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and provided a balanced package of outcomes to secure long-term cooperation to combat climate change. Two separate negotiating tracks had been set up in the aftermath of the Bali Conference in 2007: one to address long-term cooperative action under the UNFCCC, the other to address further commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. The 'Cancun Agreements' include decisions under both the Convention and Protocol negotiating tracks2 and contain provisions on mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+). The Agreements are not legally binding, but received support from all but one of the Convention's 194 Parties.3 Cancun was widely perceived as 'a stepping stone toward a future agreement',4 although not sufficient for the avoidance of dangerous climate change. This note will set out below some key areas of the Cancun Agreements.


Although governments failed to reach agreement on how far overall global emissions should be cut, the Cancun Agreements formalised, to a certain degree, details of what countries had already promised to do to mitigate climate change within the UNFCCC architecture.

Cut global emissions

In the Cancun Agreements, the Parties have agreed to reduce emissions and to the need for a maximum overall 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. In compromise language, however, they have also recognised a need to consider strengthening this long-term global goal 'including in relation to a global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius'.5 To this end, the Parties decided to periodically review the adequacy of the long-term global goal based on best available scientific knowledge. The first review should start in 2013 and should be concluded by 2015.

Mitigation commitments or actions by developed country Parties

The Agreements emphasise that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required, while acknowledging common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and the historical responsibility of developed countries for the largest share of historical global emissions. The Decision on nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions by developed countries takes note of the quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets as communicated pursuant to the Copenhagen Accord.7 Cancun now formally puts those pledges into the UNFCCC documents.

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