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UPDATED: December 3, 2010 Web Exclusive
Bumpy Road
Uncertainties hang over the Cancun climate change summit

People look at the UN Climate Wall featured at the ongoing United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun on November 30 (XINHUA)

As the two-week Cancun climate talks continue, many are saying that a successful outcome is not as likely as it had previously seemed.

Japan has announced that it will reject a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, sparking doubt over the survival of the legally binding treaty. In response, developing countries accused Japan of breaking its pledge and warned that climate talks in Mexico would fail unless Tokyo backed down.

"If the second commitment period of the Protocol is not there, then I'm afraid the prospects for any positive outcome at Cancun are very remote," said Jairam Ramesh, Environment Minister of India.

"At Cancun we need to go beyond goody-goody statements," said Ramesh. "We need some commitments, including details on how developed nations will share clean technologies with their developing counterparts and what an international agreement to protect forests will look like," he said.

"Countries are painting themselves into a corner and they are on opposite sides of the room," said Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director at the Washington D.C. non-government organization Natural Resources Defense Council.

"It is getting harder to find a solution to this that ends up with a positive outcome here in Cancun. The fate of the Kyoto Protocol is casting a huge shadow over that prospect. Hopefully when ministers get here, they'll be able to find a way out of this," he said.

Meanwhile, several statements made by countries during the meetings showed great willingness to move on, though worries arise that Cancun will not result in an overarching agreement on climate change.

Yemen said that the parties present cannot afford to leave Cancun empty-handed. It stressed that balance must be respected, and that balance in the details of decisions within each negotiating track must be maintained. It believed that any outcome that is reached in Cancun must not compromise or prejudge the overall objective of reaching a comprehensive, fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement in the future.

The African country of Lesotho said that there was a need to identify areas where possible decisions could be reached in Cancun and areas for continued negotiations next year. Lesotho wants financing to be scaled up; the country also called for the establishment of a new Climate Fund that ensures direct access for all countries.

The year 2010 is almost certain to rank in the top three warmest years since climate data first began to be recorded in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Major regional climate events in 2010

Extreme Asian summer monsoons

Pakistan experienced the worst flooding in its history as a result of exceptionally heavy monsoon rains. More than 1,500 lives were lost, and over 20 million people were displaced as large parts of Pakistan's agricultural land were inundated. In terms of the number of people affected, the United Nations rated the flood as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history.

Summer rainfall was also well above normal in western India, and China experienced its most significant monsoon flooding since 1998, with southeastern China and parts of the northeast most severely affected. A number of these floods led to significant loss of life; landslides claimed more than 1,400 lives in west China's Gansu Province in August 2010.

Extreme summer heat waves in Russia and other regions

The Northern Hemisphere summer saw exceptional heat waves in several parts of Eurasia. The most extreme heat was centered over western Russia, with the peak extending from early July to mid-August. The heat was accompanied by destructive forest fires, while severe drought, especially in the Volga region, led to widespread crop failures. Neighboring countries were also affected, with extremely high temperatures recorded in Finland, Ukraine and Belarus, and record high numbers of warm nights in parts of southeastern Europe, including Serbia.

Japan and China also had their hottest summers on record. Earlier in the year, there was exceptional pre-monsoon heat in southern Asia, which included a temperature of 53.5°C at Mohenjo-daro on May 26, a national record for Pakistan and the highest temperature in Asia since at least 1942.

Droughts in the Amazon and elsewhere

Parts of the Amazon basin were badly affected by droughts during the later part of 2010. An unusually dry July-September period in northwestern Brazil resulted in sharply reduced river flows in many parts of the Amazon catchment, with the Rio Negro, a major Amazon tributary, falling to its lowest level on record.

In Asia, parts of southwestern China experienced severe droughts through late 2009 and early 2010. Yunnan and Guizhou provinces both had their lowest rainfalls on record during the period from September 2009 to mid-March 2010. The dry conditions were also accompanied by above-normal temperatures and numerous forest fires. Conditions there eased with the onset of heavy rains during the summer.

(Source: WMO)

(Reporting from Cancun, Mexico)

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