Breakthrough in Cancún

Defying the odds, the world reaches agreement on climate change.

In the past two weeks, the WikiLeaks revelations, tuition fees vote and student protests have taken over the news agenda. The UN climate change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, have almost slipped beneath the radar. This time last year, the summit in Copenhagen was ending in frustration and disarray, with no binding agreement made or progress to speak of. The world watched in despair as ministers and advisers blamed each other for the breakdown in talks.

Perhaps the lack of media attention was exactly what was needed in order to make significant progress in the negotiations. Under the stewardship of the Mexican hosts, compromise documents were drawn up and, overcoming objections from Bolivia, endorsed by the nations present, including the United States and China (both of which have ritually blocked progress in negotiations previously).

When Todd Stern, the US envoy, voiced his support for the document ("Let us do what it takes to get this deal done and put the world on a path to a low emission and more sustainable pathway") cheers apparently rang out around the hall.

The deal, which still does not bind countries legally to cut emissions, will be insufficient for many campaigners. But most seem to agree that it represents a positive first step on the way to achieving that aim. WWF, for example, issued a statement tentatively acknowledging the "renewed sense of goodwill and some sense of purpose". The pressure is now on to legally define the deal at next year's summit in Durban, South Africa.

The summit's main success was the agreement to establish a Green Climate Fund, which will raise and distribute $100bn (£64bn) a year by 2020 to protect poor nations against the impacts of climate change and help them develop a low-carbon economy.

Taking much of the credit for the deal is the Mexican foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, who was described as a "goddess" by the Indian environment minister, Jairem Ramesh. "You have restored the confidence of the world community in multilateralism and in the multilateral process," he said.



Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.