Two Worlds Collide at Cancun Climate Talks

  • Posted on: 29 October 2010
  • By: wildleaf

The debate over climate change generally transpires within
the cloistered confines of expensive hotels, executive boardrooms, and
diplomatic halls. As seen in the failure
to arrive at binding agreements in Copenhagen, the talks are generally
as sterile as the surroundings. Now, all signs point to another
high-level fiasco at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 16), to be
held Nov.29-Dec. 10 in the beach resort town of Cancun, Mexico.

While world leaders hop around the globe to discuss the threat to the
planet, the poor already face the worst consequences of throwing off
the earth’s thermostat. Marginalized and vulnerable populations– from
small farmers in drought-stricken Africa to fisher folk in flooding island nations–suffer most from the refusal of developed nations and corporations to cut back significantly on emissions.

These same threatened populations are organizing and speaking up to
propose socially and environmentally sustainable solutions to global

The problem is that the world’s leaders aren’t listening.

Government wasted precious years arguing over the claims of spurious
scientists and purchased politicians who had a vested interest in
denying that climate change was real.

When that became impossible in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence,
leaders have turned to a set of market-based mechanisms and
technological fixes that avoid real commitments and promote the same
economic model that is responsible for the crisis.

As a result, two worlds will collide in Cancun. The first is a
world-in-denial that places profits before living species and sees the
most threatening environmental crisis in history as a business
opportunity. This world will be heavily represented by most
developed-country leaders. Outside the negotiations, it will be
reaffirmed by corporate reps hawking “green” projects and products, as
they continue to trash the environment and pursue unfettered access to
ever-scarcer natural resources.

The second is a world of small farmers, indigenous peoples, poor
urban communities, and islanders that are suffering unprecedented
droughts, water scarcity, and storms. Thousands of people from
organizations throughout the world will travel to Cancun to talk about
their world–what’s happening to it and how to protect it. They are not
just victims. The citizens of this second world are closely tied to
local ecosystems, and in many cases their stewardship has guaranteed the
conservation of the planet’s remaining forests (redefined by
climate-change conservatives as “carbon sinks”), biodiversity, and

Small farmers provide 70 percent of the world’s food supply. Global
warming gravely threatens their ability to produce this food. Their farm
practices can store carbon dioxide and reduce energy use in agriculture
within a framework of the small-scale production of local food and food
sovereignty. Unfortunately, many of these small farmers have already
joined the ranks of an estimated 50 million climate refugees.

False Solutions

The results of the Cancun climate change talks are a foregone
conclusion. Following in the footsteps of the Copenhagen non-agreement,
experts, activists, and the negotiators themselves have announced that they expect no binding agreements on emissions controls to come out of the conference.

So what exactly will be negotiated in Cancun?

All signs point to an intensification of market-based proposals for
bringing the planet away from the brink of environmental disaster.
Rather than addressing the current model of production, trade, and
consumption that has caused the crisis, these false solutions aim to
deepen it. A closer look at the so-called “Clean Development Mechanisms” (CDM) shows how.

The CDMs defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol are essentially a
dodge that allows developed polluting countries to avoid immediate and
significant cutbacks in emissions by “offsetting” them with projects in
developing countries to conserve carbon sinks (areas that store carbon,
such as forests and jungles) and other schemes. The $127 billion global carbon trading market
has become a lucrative marketplace for turning planetary salvation into
business deals. The upshot is that the polluter is allowed to keep on
polluting. Meanwhile, areas previously cared for by local communities
are pulled into management systems overseen by the polluters and
international organizations that have purchased their “environmental

International financial institutions such as the Inter-American
Development Bank and the World Bank now wield this double-edged sword
enthusiastically. The Mexican government, which will be hosting the
Cancun conference, lists its CDMs on its web page.
For example, one project area pertains to the massive waste material
from factory farms. Concentrated livestock operations generate huge
amounts of methane,
the second most important greenhouse gas. The concentration of
livestock production poses serious health and environmental hazards,
including climate change.

But instead of more closely regulating or breaking up these
operations, the CDM seek to sustain the model that has spread through
transnational investment under free trade agreements like NAFTA. Recall
that the Smithfield-Carroll hog farm in Perote, Veracruz was the point of origin of last year’s swine flu pandemic.

Another example listed is the construction of hydroelectric plants. A
hydroelectric plant slated for construction in the state of Guerrero at
La Parota would
flood 17,000 hectares that support extraordinary biodiversity and
numerous indigenous and small farming communities. The project was
suspended following a legal ruling that the governmental Federal Energy
Commission manipulated local assemblies to approve the dam construction.
The dam would displace an estimated 25,000 people. The project has now
been reactivated, thanks in part to a $400 million loan from the
Inter-American Development bank to support Mexico’s climate change
agenda, which includes the La Parota dam. In addition to the social
costs of displacement and the loss of carbon capture from the flooding,
studies by International Rivers and others show that large dams are significant sources of greenhouse gases.

Another false solution that will be promoted in the Cancun talks and strongly opposed by many grassroots organizations is the UN REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The international small farmers organization, Via Campesina rejects the
REDD program, stating, “Protecting forests and reforesting degraded
forests is an obligation of all governments that should be implemented
without limiting the autonomy, the rights or the control of indigenous
and peasant peoples over the land and their territories, and without
serving as an excuse so that other countries and corporations continue
contaminating and planting tree monocultures.”

Another is the bizarre and frightening geoengineering “fix”,
described by the ETC Group as “the intentional, large-scale
manipulation of the Earth’s systems by artificially changing oceans,
soils and the atmosphere.” Aside from the unknown and potentially
catastrophic affects of tampering with nature on this scale, ETC notes
that the measure “allows the governments responsible for almost all
historic greenhouse gas emissions to sidestep compensating the global
South, which is not guilty of climate change but suffers its effects.”

Caravans to Cancun

In Mexico, members of Via Campesina, along with the Assembly of Environmentally Affected Groups
and other grassroots organizations, are mobilizing caravans to Cancun
with a message for climate justice that rejects false solutions and
calls for “thousands of people’s solutions to climate change.”

The first three caravans,
leaving from Acapulco, Guadalajara, and San Luis Potosi, will carry
members of regional and local organizations, international delegates,
and media, passing through communities that have been hard-hit by
climate change and climate change projects, as well as other aspects of
globalization such as pollution from industrial complexes and
agribusiness. The caravans will converge in Mexico City for a march on
November 30.

A fourth caravan will continue on to Cancun to be joined by groups
from other parts of Mexico and Latin America. In Cancun, members of
regional organizations and representatives from all over the world will
gather in a Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice
as the talks take place. Through their presence, testimonies, and media
and lobbying work, they will pressure governments to adopt small-scale
sustainable solutions based on food sovereignty and the right of people
to define their agriculture systems and defend their environment. The
Forum will also discuss and promote the proposals that came out of the
Cochabamba World People’s Conference.

In panels of experts and organizers, the Forum will also explore the
role of women and the gendered aspects of climate change, and the need
for the “territorial and cultural rights of indigenous and peasant
peoples to be explicitly recognized in any climate accord.”

The encampment of thousands of peasant farmers in the Forum will
demand climate change action alongside scores of national and
international organizations, including the international coalition of
non-governmental organizations, the Global Campaign for Climate Action, Climate Dialogue and a broad range of Mexican and international organizations.

Outside official talks, Cancun provides an open forum to demand
action from governments and advance citizen awareness and involvement.
Speakers, campaigns, marches, press conferences and civil society
observers to the talks will keep the pressure on negotiators as
independent media provide a link between the on-the-ground events and
activities throughout the world through radio streams, blogs and daily

Two worlds will collide in Cancun, but they share a single planet. If
the world that defends our current model of production and consumption
prevails, the planet will edge ever closer to catastrophe.

The second world offers hope of a new path. Its solutions are
multiple and small-scale, and require political will more than huge
infusions of resources or new technologies. This second world seeks a
new balance in our lives between our environment, our food systems, and
our jobs.

Laura Carlsen ( is a FPIF Columnist and director of the CIP Americas Program. She is currently helping to coordinate independent media for the Global Forum on Social and Environmental Justice in Cancun.


La Via Campesina:

Joining the Caravans-Global Exchange

Global Campaign for Climate Action

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