Cancún: a relief? Hardly

The convention centre Cancumesse, which hosted COP16’s NGOs, governmental organizations, country pavilions and side events, was over-air conditioned and full of leaflets, pamphlets, booklets and other informational and promotional material made of paper, but the building had recycling facilities. A Cancún Mess, as filmmaker Lara Smallman put it.

So a deal was reached – a weak one. It’s far from enough.

A relief? Hardly. Especially given the worrying signs of the whole process.

The bad guys (in the plural, obviously)

To get an idea of which countries were behaving as if there was no tomorrow (and in the process ensured that there really is no tomorrow as we know it) at COP16 was the Fossil of the Day Award. Canada swept the majority of the awards, but politely allowed other countries to get a couple of first prizes too – so Saudi Arabia got one (for trying to silence civil society), and Japan (for trying to kill the Kyoto protocol).

But the main bad guy, many agreed, was the United States. David Turnbull, executive director of CAN International, said the US was blocking progress on transparency, while putting pressure on everyone else to be transparent.

‘The US talks a lot about transparency for others, but what it really needs is a mirror,’ stated the 9 December issue of ECO, a daily insiders’ look at the negotiations. ‘The US seems opposed to five simple words that should be noncontroversial for a country advocating transparency: comparable, consistent, complete, transparent and accurate.’

A protest in front of the Moon Palace, where negotiations took place. The note reads, in Spanish: ‘US inaction equals death.’

But the US was not alone in stalling progress, Turnbull said; Japan was another tough guy. ‘From day one [of the negotiations], Japan held an unacceptable and unsustainable position regarding the Kyoto protocol,’ he said. This inflexibility put all the talks at risk.  

To some, it was Bolivia‘s president Evo Morales who was the main deal-breaker, because he refused to sign a weak deal of false solutions and demanded proper action on climate change – a position supported by no-one (as a result, Bolivia was diplomatically isolated and ignored).

But you know what? Common sense has not become extinct yet. ‘Evo is as ambitious as everyone should be,’ said Yolanda Kakabadse, president of WWF International. ‘We need more Moraleses,’ agreed an online commentator.

Cash control

At the event ‘Funding the Future’ at Cancunmesse, more than 200 civil society organizations called for a fair global climate fund to be agreed during COP16. A ‘green fund’, which should help developing nations cut their emissions and adapt to climate change, has been agreed – with $30 billion by 2012 and $100 billion per year by 2020 promised by the industrialized countries. We’re still to see if it’s fair, and if promises materialize.

The 200+ organizations demanded that the Fund be established under the UN with equitable representation, getting rid of the donor-recipient approach; that it should be a one-stop shop replacing the current bureaucratically complicated spaghetti bowl of funding channels; that adaptation to climate change should be addressed equally with mitigation, preferably 50-50; that the Fund should include women, who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Hurry up! activists illustrate how climate negotiations will take place in upcoming COPs, if the world fails to act now.

Now, there are at least three problems associated with this Fund. First, adaptation itself – while it is clear that climate change is already destroying Mother Earth and various species, including ours, some question whether this might mean we have given up fighting. ‘Do we accept that we have failed, and now all there is, is to try to adapt?’

Second, the UK, among others, is pushing for the new billion-dollar fund to be administered by the World Bank. They want this undemocratic, unaccountable, secret institution to be a trustee, a ‘tool’ in helping those affected by climate change to adapt to it. The UK insists the World Bank is the ‘leading candidate’ for this banker role. Many understand that this isn't so. (video by World Development Movement).

But how do we make sure that the climate fund is not hijacked by business interests?

‘Clearly, developed countries want to use the World Bank, developing countries have concerns, and for good reason. [We have to] clarify as tightly and precisely as possible exactly what the role of the World Bank would be. What matters most is not who has the bank account, it’s who controls the money, decides how it’s spent and where it goes. We’re trying to make sure that the people who decide are the right people – so developing countries and women have to be fairly represented,’ Tim Gore from Oxfam explained.

World Bank stand at Cancunmesse. Unfortunately, no-one was there to explain the role of the Bank in the climate fund.

The third worrying thing is that the rich want part of the climate fund to be loans. But are loans to climate change victims who haven’t caused the problem appropriate as climate finance?

‘If someone damaged your car and then suggested you take out a loan to pay for its repair, would you do that?’ was a question sent on twitter to the UK delegation at the ‘Funding the Future’ panel. It was conveniently ignored by the UK ambassador to Mexico, Judith McGregor, and her team.

Instead, they insisted that even though there would be grants in the climate fund, there is ‘space for loans’ too: the terms would be generous, they said, and interest rates low. And here is the best part: ‘We find that there is demand for [climate] loans, especially in LDCs [Least Developed Countries].’

Well of course! The innocent and poor are happy to borrow from the rich and guilty!

If they are cornered with a choice of either borrowing or dying, they will not think twice, will they? It’s very easy to play the cards this way, when money and power are in your hands – mission accomplished, your way.

Do the numbers add up?

Strolling around the self-advertising stands at Cancunmesse, I notice the unmistakable red-and-white Coca Cola logo (decorated with a green leaf!). Shouldn’t have been a surprise, as the official COP16 venues are full of Coke’s products, happily consumed by the delegates and other participants. But it is still disturbing to see the symbol of consumerism and the champion of water exploitation at an event which claims to be saving the planet, not destroying it.

So what’s Coca Cola doing here, besides profiteering as the main soft drinks and bottled water provider at COP16? Well, together with another massive polluter – Cemex, Mexico’s cement giant not without flaws in its environmental record – Coke made COP16 'the first carbon-neutral COP by compensation' (COP15 at Copenhagen was offset).

Through Pronatura México, an organization with a mission to conserve flora and fauna, and the corporate sponsors, Mexican government acquired carbon offsets; the money will go to 10 communities in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Pronatura estimates that the COP16 meeting produced between 28,000 and 33,000 tonnes of CO2. The communities provide the off-setters with invoices, and use the money to protect their forests. So how much did the COP16 cost, environmentally?

The established price for 1 tonne of CO2 was US $10 [sic]. Yes, so COP16 cost, on average, US $300,000, environmentally. That’s pocket money – and no unnecessary feelings of guilt. So we can sleep at night, all is fine.

Or is it?

What really matters. (Poster at an exhibition at the Villa de Cambio Climático, set up by the Mexican government.)

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