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Postcard from Cancún

Last week, 193 delegations gathered in Cancún, Mexico, to do something about climate change. Although the negotiations were widely written off as a failure before they even started, the show had to go on – and it has.

The 2 December issue of El Periódico de Quinatana Roo, Cancún’s regional newspaper, was almost exclusively dedicated to COP 16 – except for the Life and Style section, that is. Its front page carried photographs of activists demanding action on climate change, now.

It’s no secret that nobody expects a deal at Cancún. Brazil’s chief negotiator Luiz A Figueiredo said in a press conference that this time around, just like at COP 15 in Copenhagen a year ago, there is ‘a game of “I’m not doing until you are doing”, followed by a game of blaming [each other]’. He added that his country is not interested in participating in any of these games.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Pershing, who is leading the US delegation, announced that he ‘personally believes’ that the negotiation process would deliver results, and assured the world that all the COP 16 participants recognize the seriousness of the [climate change] problem and the challenges it poses.


We’ve heard it before. Our leaders recognize the problem so much that they start living in some sort of ‘that’ll do’ attitude. Or – worse – they become obstacles in the very process they claim to be solving, as Miguel Valencia, coordinator of Klima Forum 2010, said. He condemned countries including the US, China, Brazil and the EU, for standing in the way of achieving a deal on fighting climate change we so desperately need.

Miguel is not alone on this one. Klima Forum – an alternative grassroots gathering – is buzzing with different experiences being shared and exciting ideas being exchanged. Daily workshops are held in huge tents, lunch, which starts at 1.30 pm, is used for networking and continuing heated discussions, and there is a spirit of community in the air. It does make a stark opposition to the glamorous, air-conditioned buildings where the COP 16 is taking place – let alone for all the federal police officers with automatic rifles around them.

Some say Klima Forum is more important than COP 16 itself – the faith in the international community getting its act together on time is so small nobody bothers to mention it.  

‘There should be more of us,’ I hear many times. Indeed, Klima Forum, surrounded by bright green trees during the day and starry skies after the sun sets, feels too empty. Might it be its distant location (an hour’s bus ride from downtown Cancún)? ‘How many people do you expect?’ I ask one of the Forum’s volunteers. ‘We don’t know. More.’ Tomorrow a new influx in the form of the caravans of Via Campesina will arrive.

It will be a new day. But the pressures of today won’t go away.     

Quote of the day: ‘You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell me you need more time.’ (Christina Ora, Youth delegate addressing COP 15 in Copenhagen, December 2009, as reproduced on blue T-shirts worn by young North American activists at the Klima Forum)

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