CLIMATE CHANGE | Plazas & Bubbles: COP16, day 2


The largest hall at Cancunmesse is dominated by three of COP16’s major players: the United States, Mexico, and the European Union. Each has several hundred feet of floor space and each has done mildly spectacular things with it. The U.S. has a high-walled multi-room complex filled with multimedia presentations and free coffee, Mexico has a lush green stage with hundreds of plants growing and a live mariachi band, and the EU has an expansive plaza filled with couches and ottomans that seems perpetually full and active.

Our delegation held its morning meeting today in the EU plaza, circling up some couches and sitting down to chat. As we went over our plans for the day, I thought of how these three floor spaces were reflective of each country (or group of countries in the case of the European Union) in regard to COP16. The U.S., with its technological walled fortress, had created a skyscraper and filled it with flashy things. The plasma touchscreens and free coffee were there to give an impression of competence and curry favor. Mexico’s overload of garden-party green was both a celebration and a welcome. The eyes of the world were on Cancun and Mexico was exuberantly showing off. And the European Union’s couch-filled plaza was a cooperative public space. It brought people together and seemed, more than the other spaces, to emphasize the common humanity of the delegates. In a large sense, all the countries’ contributions are needed — information technology (as well as coffee) is critical for getting work done; celebration is important for maintaining a joyful sense of purpose — but what needs to happen most is creating a space for productive collaboration. Whether this occurs or not at the conference will be the real test of COP16.


Photo: Morning meeting in the EU plaza

Photo: Morning meeting at the EU plaza

Photo: Reading the daily schedule of events

Photo: Reading the daily schedule of events

I spent the first part of the day catching up on e-mail. MPR had decided they wanted to interview some students, so Sarah (a grad student from our delegation) gave a somewhat hectic interview for a website article as we were bouncing along in the afternoon shuttle bus to the Moon Palace. I did an interview for broadcast on All Things Considered once we were off the bus and could find a quiet place. Rep. Knuth had been trying to coordinate our schedules and MPR’s schedules for a day or so and we were glad it eventually worked out.

Many of us from the U of M delegation attended an address and question and answer session for NGOs with the President of COP16, Ms. Patricia Espinosa. “Some have referred to Cancun as the finish line,” she said. “It is not. But it can be something equally important at this stage.” She expressed her desire to move beyond recitations of policy platforms (which have so far occupied much of the time in plenary sessions) and on to substantive collaboration. “Multilateralism,” said Ms. Espinosa, “is based on a conviction by the international community that working together is in the best interests of every one of us.”

In the early evening, I sat in on a side event hosted by the Center for Biological Diversity and Bill McKibben, long-time activist and founder, was on the panel and spoke passionately about creating a global climate movement. In the question and answer time afterward, Ricardo, a Nicarguan student studying in Sweden, commented, “I’m excited to hear some sane people at last — to hear some Americans who DO care.”

The official delegate from Seychelles (also the Seychelles Ambassador to the United States), who had been in the audience, then stood up and spoke. He was down-to-earth and pleasant. He expressed his gratitude to the panel, pointing out that since Seychelles is the 11th smallest country in the world and affiliated with the Alliance of Small Island States, “you’ve heard a lot from us already.” For his country and other small islands, climate change and the rising sea level threatens everything they’ve known. “We intend to be as noisy as we can until the water covers our heads,” he continued, raising his hand slowly past his chin, then his eyes. “Even when the bubbles come to the surface and burst, you will still hear us shouting.”

Think about that for a minute.

I’ll be back with another blog tomorrow. Thanks for reading.