Climate Change Talks: Power Down?

Climate Change Talks: Power Down?

The sun beats down.

It’s hot here in Cancun, the opposite of Copenhagen a year ago, where the world’s governments and civil society met to hammer out an agreement on constraining climate-warming greenhouse gases (GHGs). Most people attending the climate talks appreciate the change in weather; I’ve heard Copenhagen described as “mad cold” or something similar by several colleagues, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa.

But even as the ocean breezes blow and the sun shines and, at my resort hotel as at many climate change summiteers are staying at, the pool-side band plays on, there’s a distinct lack of energy. Instead of powering the conference up, the sun seems to be doing the opposite. The government talks, held in a venue separate from where most NGOs are headquartered, are lagging. We hear of threats of walkouts by certain countries, stalling tactics by others, and some loose words, not fully clear in their meaning (is Japan suggesting the Kyoto Protocol die, or not?).

The Klimaforum, a hotbed of NGO activity in wintry Copenhagen, is, here in Cancun, marooned 40 km outside of the city. Yes, it’s in a lovely oasis of a polo club (of all things—and yes, ponies were spotted), a pretty drive into the countryside, but it’s very sparsely populated. Because it’s so far away, there’s very little overlap between the NGOs at the Klimaforum and those at the conference hub, the Cancunmesse. And virtually none between those at the Klimaforum and the government talks at the improbably named Moon Palace, yet another, and even more luxurious, resort.

As I headed back from the Klimaforum last night, first in a shuttle and then a taxi, I found the disconnect dismaying, and the overall lack of energy here, the sense almost of drift—and the consensus that this what’s taking place—deflating. It’s hard to blame the NGOs, but it’s also hard to know what the governments are up to. It’s also difficult to argue that climate change is any less of a crisis than it was a year ago in Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, it was rare to see the sun. Here, it’s hard to avoid. Yet, it feels like most of us are running on powered-down batteries, and in need of a small solar panel to zip us up again, before the tribute band plays too many more songs, or the huge buffet is reset for yet another pool-side, carbon-intensive meal.