Frustrations in Cancun

December 3rd, 2010

Cancun is a pretty depressing place to be if you want to save the planet from humanity’s destructive tendencies. More than 100 hotels stand cheek by jowl along a dual carriageway; the white sands and blue sea are beautiful – but have been created by destruction of the mangroves, which were valuable ecosystems protecting the coast and fisheries. The climate is warm but not too hot, yet the conference centre is so air-conditioned that some of us have developed chills, coming without clothes warm enough to cope with the change of temperature from outside to inside.

In the conference centre, the tasteless food is heavily packaged, with concessions to the environment only in the biodegradability of the plastic and cardboard. Recycling bins request ‘concern for the environment’ while in the negotiations, this concern is far from uppermost in the minds of most of the delegates. Not only have we flown across the world to get here, but the logistics mean that we have to travel around 20 km to get to the security gateway for the conference, and a further 18km return (by special bus) to reach the grotesquely extravagant hotel where the actual negotiations take place. Up until last year, it seemed there was real space for NGOs to influence what happened, by talking to delegates, and writing articles and talking points. Now, it seems countries’ positions are determined by political considerations only, not technical concerns, and willingness to negotiate, which surely means making concessions to others in return for an outcome, is in short supply. In the fringes, I am having useful discussions on practical ways forward for implementing adaptation.

On a positive note – we had a very successful side event on Wednesday with up to 160 people in the room, and excellent presentations about valuable work. However, everyone in the room seemed to be on our side – about the need to change international agricultural policy away from intensive, environmentally destructive systems towards ones supporting small scale diverse production. Those we need to engage with to change minds and policy stayed away.

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