In spite of being billed as a lower profile conference than the one last December in Copenhagen that ended in disaster, the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16), the official name of the UN conference on climate change, now underway in Cancun, Mexico has attracted participation by an estimated 15-25,000 participants from 193 countries. Fortunately all have voiced more limited expectations than those imagined for Copenhagen. Moreover, no national leaders are expected to attend. For example, President Lulu of Brazil said he would not attend since it will be a useless exercise.

I would start by recommending that they not hold conferences to discuss “global warming” in the winter. Hard to focus on rising temperatures when the UK is apparently under the heaviest blanket of snow since 1965 and suffering a cold not seen in 17 years. I also see that most of Europe is under heavy snow and suffering record cold. Meanwhile our own Northeast is suffering a heavy winter blast of snow, rain and cold.

At least one basic understanding has been reached, it will be impossible to achieve the goal of keeping the average temperature of the earth from increasing by less than 2 degrees centigrade over the next 50 years. The new goal is to keep it below 4 degrees over the next century. The 4 degree rise is calculated by some to mean that the average sea level will rise by 0.5 to 2.0 meters by 2100, so get ready for some low lying coastal areas, including my house in Florida, submerging below the tides. It will also reduce the walk from my front door to the sea in Mallorca from 50 to 30 meters.

Given the difficulty in arriving at a new intenational agreement on what to do, there is a movement to extend the life of the Kyoto Accord, while working on a supplement, or completely new one, to replace it. Unfortunately this lidea was probably stillborn since Japan, home of the agreement, has announced that it will not extend its participation in the Kyoto Accord beyond its current expiration in 2012. And other countries have expressed similar plans.

In the absence of any hope of a major breakthrough, focus at the conference is on achieving more limited goals. One sure bet is further development of the effort to save the world’s forests with more action on preventing deforestation and degradation of the forests. Another good bet is pledges of funds and techical assistance from the rich countries for environmental work in less fortunate countries. The problem here is that many rich countries are being accused of supplying these funds by robbing from other development programs, rather than offering new funds. Even worse, EU countries have postulated that these funds be loans and not grants.

Since I am a hopeless devotee of puns, I would say the current confence on global warming has gotten off to a “cold start.”