Inside the exhibit hall at the COP 16 Climate talks, an international delegation of youth start auctioning off time. “Can I interest you in more time?” they ask conference goers making their rounds around the NGO exhibit booths. “How about clean air? ” a young man inquires, while offering small paper boxes to the lucky bidder. Another young woman is bearing ice in plastic cups, carrying the world’s remaining polar ice caps. In this performance act, small island states like Kribati and Tuvalu have already been sold. The earth’s remaining resources are available for a limited time only.
The passionate youth sport turquoise colored t-shirts that read, “You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell me you need more time.” Christina Ora, a youth delegate from the Solomon Islands spoke those words while addressing the plenary last year in Copenhagen. One year later in Cancun, it seems the negotiating parties are still trying to buy more time.
A large heart shaped memorial to KP’the Kyoto Protocol’stands outside the entrance to the exhibit hall. Posted to the display are letters to Japan: “Don’t Leave Kyoto” and “Kyoto needs you.”
A few feet away from the memorial, the “Fossil of the Day,” mock awards distributed by the Climate Action Network, are announced daily to “countries who have performed badly in the climate change negotiations.” Last week, Japan received a Fossil of the Day award for:
“the dubious distinction of being the only government to win a Fossil of the Day award today for its efforts Monday to prevent the continuation of a protocol to the United Nations climate convention that was agreed to in its own city of Kyoto.”
Other countries have shared the award “for promoting carbon capture and storage in the Clean Development Mechanism, and trying to preserve the ‘hot air’ of surplus Assigned Amount Units in future commitment periods of the Kyoto Protocol.” Saudi Arabia earned one for trying to limit civil society’s participation and voice in the negotiations.
A Mayan style “pyramid of hope” was erected by the tck tck tck folks at the exhibit hall in Cancun and presented to UNFCC secretary Christina Figueres. The pyramid was constructed of words and images that comprise the building blocks for “a fair ambitious binding treaty.”
But if you ask most folks here, no one is expecting COP 16 to deliver. Climate treaties are being memorialized and fossilized rather than revived. It’s as if Cancun is merely a pitstop to Durban, South Africa, the location of COP 17.
It’s a strange and funny thing to attend a conference of low- to no-expectations. There is a confusing energy. What exactly is everybody doing here and what do they hope to get out of it? How do you pass the time?
Probably the most interesting conversations aren’t happening at Moon Palace, the location of the negotiations, but rather while we all are in transit, waiting for one shuttle bus or another to take us where we think we should be. We meet delegates from all over the world, learn about their work, why they are here, and discuss our own projects. While sitting in idling buses, we remind ourselves what is at stake,. This is how we pass the time.
While the energy from Copenhagen might have dampened, the urgency of the crisis has only increased. We were reminded of this Saturday night at a panel on Women’s Leadership and Climate Change Justice, organized by the Green Belt Movement. Constance Okollet of Climate Wise Women, told the crowd how climate change, flooding and droughts are impacting her rural village in Uganda, displacing families and impacting their food supply. Historically, they had two crop seasons, Constance reflected, but now they are “gambling with agriculture.” Her village that cooks by moonlight is a stark contrast to resource intensive Moon Palace, but heavily impacted by what will or won’t happen there. Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland said, “This is the number one human rights issue of the 21st Century.”
In another panel on food and farming at the Klimaforum, Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumer Association, echoed something similar. “This is the biggest crisis we have ever faced. We are either going to fix this or perish.” He closed by adding that we have to decide whether this is a climate movement for mere survival or a movement for rejuvenation.
Tck tck tck.