Ostensibly, COP16 is about a climate change treaty.
Actually, not so much.
From the giant picture of strip mining that greets visitors at the Cancun airport to the billboards along the freeway urging delegations to go vegan to the negotiating rooms at the Moon Palace Hotel, COP16 is about message.
But it’s a mixed message at best. Scientists generally agree that one of the major causes of climate change is the use of fossil fuels, yet delegates, non-governmental agencies, press and intergovernmental officials spend nearly two hours one way each trip from their hotels to the conference center, most of it stuck in traffic on sweltering diesel buses. All around, cars carrying one or two people idle while motorcycles and a few cars whiz past on the shoulder and push their way back into line, further snarling traffic.
A sign in a hotel elevator extols the environmental virtues of Cancun, while a maid-service card disables the card slot by the room door that is intended for the door key to turn electricity on and off. Another sign urges reusing towels to save water, while a Jacuzzi big enough to swim laps in sits beside every bed.
If this is the war on climate change, the allied forces are in for a pounding.
In negotiations, the contradictions are even greater. While the United Sates of widely blamed for scuttling talks last year in Copenhagen, insiders say it had more to do with the Danes decision to pressure world leaders to attend the conference. Since the world leaders haven’t a clue about the science issues, the conference ended not with an agreement based in sound science, but with posturing and little else. Others say the blame rests with ALBA, a loose coalition of South American and Caribbean states, including Venezuala, Cuba and Nicaragua, who have a vested interest in obstructing progress.
Whoever is to blame, the message that this will be a world-changing event is lost on those who pay any attention at all. There are 194 nations involved, all of whom must agree on every point before any point is settled. While the developed world has money to spend, and the developing world needs it, there’s even disagreement on how to do this. First-tier countries see it as foreign aid to be doled out as they choose. Third-tier countries see it as compensation for pollution and want the UN to be charge of giving it. They’ll take the money, of course, but no amount of spin is going to make them like or cooperate with the countries it came from.
And while on the topic of compensation, there’s also the small issue of OPEC. If there is a treaty to be had that reduces the use of fuels, oil producing countries want to be paid for the fuel that no one is going to be buying.
So how will anything come out of COP16? It’s still an open question whether anything will, no matter what the message is.