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Mexico: Climate change conference kicks off in Cancun

Delegates are up against almost universally low expectations.

Mexico is an unlikely host country, with roughly 30 percent of its public sector revenue derived from PEMEX, the national oil company, and few large scale sustainable projects. However, national leaders seem at least moderately sincere about making improvements, and certainly want Cancun — hardly a model city of sustainability — to leave a very different legacy than its predecessor.

Blame for the failure of international agreements to materialize has fallen squarely on two major players: the United States and China. At the lead-up to Cancun in Tianjin, China, the two butted heads again, hurling diplomatic mud at one another through thinly veiled words. China derides the United States for its lack of action to reduce emissions, while the United States claims China continues to renege on agreements in Copenhagen.

The battle between the two largest emitters is viewed by many as the main blockade to progress.

But not everyone is so pessimistic. Doug Boucher, director of climate research and analysis at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, believes there's an opportunity to look beyond these two nations and move forward on the central topics.

Though progressive binding agreements would be preferable, Boucher does not regard them as the only measure of success, and sees value in progress toward more concrete future agreements.

Gustavo Ampugnani, coordinator for Greenpeace Mexico’s climate and energy campaign, describes this year as a crucial stepping stone.

“Cancun is a middle point between the failure of Copenhagen, and the future possible success of South Africa,” he said. “And for Cancun, for it to be this middle point, on the path to the right destination, it needs to lay the seeds for global agreements that we want to see in South Africa.”