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There Must Be Cause for Celebration in Cancun, as Tone of Climate Talks Will Pave the Way to Success at 'Rio+20' Earth Summit

11/30/2010 11:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There's a big party starting in the Mexican resort of Cancun this week. It's the annual Conference of the Parties of the maladroitly named United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The absence of revelry will surely be more than compensated by the burning of much midnight oil as participants from all over the world struggle to reach agreement on how to avert global warming.

I've been attending this annual bash since 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol, the much-talked-about climate change deal, was adopted by more than 190 countries. The United States, whose leading delegate at those talks was then-Vice President Al Gore, and Australia were the only developed nations that failed to ratify the deal, which actually came into force in 2005.

As communications director of Greenpeace International, I shared the environmental community's disappointment that the world's largest economy -- accounting for more than a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions -- was unable to join the rest of the industrialized world in an agreement to combat climate change.

Now, as a business adviser on sustainability, I'm encouraged by the measures companies have introduced to curb their climate-damaging emissions. But I'm dismayed by the inability of the world's political leaders to agree on a successor to the Kyoto treaty, which all but expires at the end of 2012. With the failure of last year's climate summit in Copenhagen to find a way forward, there's huge pressure on the Cancun partygoers to ensure a much-needed replacement to the Kyoto accord.

As a long-time observer of the complexities of intergovernmental negotiations, I understand the difficult hurdles that our politicians must overcome. Reaching consensus among a multitude of nations with a myriad of often conflicting interests is a tall order. With the corporate world having found a strong business case for mitigating climate change, it's time for our leaders to wake up to the scientific imperatives of reaching a political deal.

Impacts of climate change are becoming ever more evident, which scientists believe is already causing more frequent occurrences of drought, floods, hurricanes and forest fires as well as an increase in malaria and other diseases. Among the long-term impacts are rising sea levels and damage to crops which can lead to widespread famine.

Even climate skeptics understand the need for the world to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels, which are the main culprits of global warming. And they know that as deposits of coal, oil and gas become increasingly challenging and expensive to exploit, as well as an urgent need for energy security, the development of sustainable alternatives in the form of renewables has to happen.

All eyes will be focused on the United States during these two weeks in Cancun. But unlike in Copenhagen, where participants were optimistic that a newly elected, "environmentally friendly" U.S. president would ensure success, no such expectations will abound this year.

In contrast to the buoyant mood at the start of the talks in sub-zero temperatures in the Danish capital, there seems to be little hope of a deal being reached under the Mexican sun. Instead, negotiators are likely to use these talks to provide a more conducive atmosphere for a positive outcome from next year's summit slated for South Africa.

It was in Rio de Janeiro back in 1992 that the nations gathered for the much-heralded Earth Summit, when the decision was made by governments of the world to tackle the global warming challenge. With the so-called "Rio+20" summit scheduled for 2012, I am optimistic that this elusive global agreement to combat climate change will finally have been found

What happens in Cancun will have a significant impact on the future of these critical talks. I am heading to the party for the second week, from where I look forward to sharing my observations on this critical event. I'll be tracking environmental activists, business leaders and politicians as the inevitable drama unfolds.

Without doubt, climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges ever to confront humanity. The stakes are high, but I remain hopeful that there'll be something to celebrate.