December 7, 2010
by David Simpson and Jane Lapiner
Cancun Climate Summit
The Policia Federal are everywhere now in Cancún. Gouts of them stationed along various points on the highway, placed according to a plan that is not immediately evident. They are especially thick, of course, anywhere near Cancún Messe, the convention center outside of the city where part of the UN Climate Conference, COP 16, is being held. The other location for the event is the Moon Palace, a luxury hotel near the convention center and accessible by shuttle only. It’s where the dialogue between the parties (countries) is being carried on.
The hotel districts are also areas of police concentration, especially the main ten mile long strip running southeast of Cancún along the coast. Our mildly funky little hotel which seems to be favored for thrift reasons by many climate justice NGO representatives is for the same reason, no doubt, also favored by the Federales—at least 50 are actually staying here on the government’s tab.
Up until yesterday, Monday the 6th of December, these COP cops were as apt to be seen in bathing suits or shorts and T shirts around the pool as they were in full riot gear. As of Monday morning of COP 16, Week Two, many more of them were in the riot gear, AK 457’s worn clipped to the front of their armored jackets almost like accessories rather than weapons, part of a look that you just happened to share with a few thousand other guys and girls. A note: It is edifying to discover that the Mexican Federal Police deploy a reasonable share of women on these teams. Nothin’ like a gal with a full automatic combat weapon to get a guy’s attention. It should be remembered that the Politzi in Copenhagen, harsh as their measures turned out to be, had only clubs by way of weaponry and these proved quite sufficient. But who knows? Maybe there are drug gangs lurking in the maze of Hiltons and Royal Palaces and Royal Cancúns. (Promises of regal treatment are ubiquitous here.) It is true that the Federal Police have suffered grievous losses in the drug wars nearer the US border.
Whatever the case, it’s very odd being guarded by armed sentries at a hotel where most people are on holidays. We, the police and us, take meals together and greet each other politely when we pass, but their riot gear and weaponry does not fit any usual image of neighborliness. One hardly knows whether the intention of the police presence is to protect us from something or to protect something from us. What are the police here for? If one were glib one might answer: “Escorting the UNFCCC into a musty corner of the world stage” or “To See REDD”.
REDD is pretty much all this meeting is boiling down to now that everyone has given up on making progress toward commitments for emissions reductions, at least until next December in Durban. The second issue ostensibly at stake, the adaptation fund promised at Copenhagen, seems to also have slipped into a crack in what is called the UNFCCC architecture. The US is trying hard to divert that one into private hands where there is money to be made and little demand on the federal treasury. Robert Zoelick and that tired old whore, the World Bank, whose services have further immiserated many of the world’s poorest counties, waits in the wings.
For those who haven’t grasped it yet, REDD stands for Reduced Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation. It is a carbon trading scheme by which northern energy users get carbon credits to emit more CO2 by paying to protect southern forests, sort of. It ends up usually being at the expense of the human communities who depend on the forest while their governments and elites get paid. Since protection can mean turning natural forests into palm oil or eucalyptus plantations, it’s hard to say what will be saved anyway.
If REDD passes muster by tomorrow and becomes official US policy, many of its critics will throw up their hands in disgust. If it doesn’t get passed, which is a strong possibility, the UN will have little or nothing to show for its year-long work and will become even more vulnerable to its enemies who want to see it disempowered. Environmental and social justice NGO’s are the most conflicted because they want to stop REDD but fear losing the last chance for a second round under Kyoto which they once despised as weak and inadequate and now are forced to accept as all we have. It is a bleak situation if one is bent on saving the world from climate disaster. For many large commercial interests, especially carbon traders, it is a pivotal moment, filled with hope.
Certainly another weak or misleading conclusion for this event or hidden agreement like the one at Copenhagen would likely stir a frustration and anger among the gathered tribes, especially if that agreement were seen to have been forced on COP 16 by some cabal of the US and a few other developed countries with help from token little guys like the formerly defiant and now cooperative Maldives. Evo Morales is scheduled to show up at Via Campesina later today, Thursday the 9th, but if one were into political betting, one might not want to wager that Evo could bring off another successful challenge like his last ditch stand in Copenhagen to prevent acceptance by the UN of the infamous US-led Accord,
Even without last months WikiLeaks revelations of coercive US efforts to gain support for its mutant diplomatic brainchild, everyone knew what the game was. US special climate envoy, Todd Stern had been flexing muscles all year, basically, and spinning off vague threats that the UN process needed badly to be fixed. All because the US didn’t like Kyoto which it never signed. Destroying it and its ongoing process—by many estimations the world’s only hope—was the basic agenda behind the Copenhagen Accord. (Kyoto, it should be remembered, required developed nations to cut emissions 5.2 % below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012. Though many NGO’s who worked at it remember that back in 1997, they thought Kyoto was dreadfully weak, now they sadly see it as the only hope.) So here is the specter of the US and its lackeys still pushing an agreement which by any estimate will doom us to catastrophic temperature increases. Then they claim that the whole UNFCCC process is flawed and should be replaced, blaming a handful of small nations for insisting that an agreement should contain within it a hope that we will survive.
The Outside Amassed
The “Outside” forces in Cancún, meanwhile, are scattered in three, maybe four camps in and around the city. There is the Klimaforum, a Mexican-adapted holdover of the alternative scene in Denmark which was very successful in providing a forum and focus for masses of people gathered in that northern city. These dedicated climate campaigners had come to Copenhagen–and made it clear when they marched 100,000 strong through the city on December 5th of 2009 that they wanted a binding agreement for new and deep emissions reductions after Kyoto. Survival of the species may well depend on it, they reasoned, and when the Danish police started beating heads and making mass arrests, it seemed as though they had aligned themselves with public order over the future of the planet.
The second alternative forum and at the moment far larger is known as ES Mex or Espacio Mexicana. Composed of significant numbers of grass roots people—workers, union organizers, farmers, community activists. This movement has been organized in part by Mexican environmental organizations—Friends of the Earth Mexico, Greenpeace Mexico and a handful of community-based organizations. This group resides just south of City Center in a series of tents of all sizes pitched in a large sports complex holding meeting, discussions and workshops.
The third forum and at this writing the most powerful is the one led by the international peasant and small-farmer organization, La Via Campesina. Thousands of people, many of them small farmers from eastern, central and southern Mexico arrived in a caravan of buses from their rallying point in Mexico City. They have been joined at their newly sprung up tent city by people from all over the world, especially from Latin America, including an indigenous group from Bolivia. They, too, have created a tent city in another, smaller sports complex nearer City Center. A constant round of inspirational if over amplified speeches, some by major Latin American leaders, lubricates the crowd who have managed to cooperate to an unusual extent in terms of living together, sharing space and getting out meals. It is here that Morales is to show up later today, December 9th.
A fourth group, Villa Climatica, is a government spin off situated on the road from the city to the UNFCCC event at Cancún Messe. It has tried with limited success to make itself useful.
Both Es Mex and La Via Campesina staged marches on Tuesday, the 7th that seemed by whatever standards these things are judged to have been successful. Via Campesina got an early start and bussed part way before proceeding on foot to the gate at Moon Palace where they were not welcomed in for a round of golf but instead blocked by a small army of Federal Police who used massive portable metal shields to entirely block the way.
Meanwhile, there were flurries of protest inside—a handful of civil society stalwarts had walked out and briefly held a rally of sorts across the road from the main UNFCCC entrance at Cancún Messe. A series of retributive acts on the past of authorities culminated in the dis-accreditation and removal from the event of several participants including well-known Indigenous Environmental Network leader Tom Goldtooth. A late night report had Goldtooth and another leading activist, Rebecca Summer, reinstated. Had they not been invited back in, there would have been a wave of protest. Now Morales is coming, and the scene for a potentially dramatic playing out of events is set for these last two high ministerial days in Cancún.
For most places in Cancún, along the Mayan Riviera, it is a normal day. There is a stiff breeze off the coast, shaking and bending the palms and kicking up a little surf. The tourists in their casual search for even greater ease may idly wonder about all the police visible around town but for them, little more is at stake today than the danger of getting too much sun.
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