What are the chances? On my flight to Cancun for the climate change talks, I met a member of Senegal’s government delegation. We conversed, mostly in French (my spoken French is pretty broken, but I can understand more and can nod agreement or understanding, even if I can’t always reply). He, Amadou, is an engineer and his specialty is calculating emissions from a group of global warming contributors grouped under the category of “black carbon.” This term, which was new to me, in both French and English, encompasses emissions from the burning of forests, from diesel vehicles, and from cooking or heating with coal or wood.
Of course, Senegal’s and Africa’s emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) as a whole are tiny, infinitesimal even when compared with those of the U.S. or the E.U. or now, China. But, Amadou explained, if black carbon was given a priority in Cancun—reducing deforestation, providing alternatives to coal and wood fuel, removing dirty diesel vehicles from the roads and highways—results could be swift. Of course, the rich countries would be called on to finance this transition; such finance was a key element of the dialogue in Copenhagen last year. But the prospects for progress on black carbon in Cancun? In Amadou’s view, the U.S.-China relationship is central to how the climate talks play out, as is the issue that a significant portion of China’s GHGs arise due to its manufacturing of all manner of goods exported and sold in the U.S.
Amadou and I parted after we cleared customs. A bientôt, we both said: “See you soon.” And me to him, “Bonne chance pour les negotiations.” Unexpectedly speaking in French has made my “Cancun Spanish” even more elusive (“Hola” and “buenos dias” are pretty universal.) Being in Cancun can be a small world. Brighter Green associate Sangu Iyer met a member of the Senegalese delegation at her eco-friendly downtown hotel the first night she was in Cancun. They also conversed in French. We emailed about it. “What’s his name?” I asked. “The man I met was named Amadou.” Then came the reply: “It’s the same Amadou.” What are the chances? In Cancun, some, at least.