Saturday, 27 November 2010

Cancun hopes and fears

I arrive in Cancun on Wednesday, with low expectations but looking forward to seeing friends and participating in several events on climate change and food security on behalf of Oxford based GECAFS ( I wish I felt more optimistic that there will be progress because I would so like Mexico to be able to take some credit for success - I have worked on climate change in Mexico and with Mexican colleagues for many years.

Last night, at a Thanksgiving dinner in Tucson I had the chance to see Cape Farewell voyager and writer Gretel Ehrlich whose latest book - The Empire of Ice - documents the changes in the Arctic and impact on its indigenous peoples. Gretel is very pessimistic about the fate of the Arctic if we do not respond to climate change. We spent some time talking about American politics and the prospects for action on climate change, with Neal Conan (of NPR) urging us to take seriously the anger of those who voted for tea party and republican climate deniers in the recent election. Our host, someone whose family has ranched in the American West for decades, suggested we appeal to the personal inter generational concerns of American families but then that doesn't help when with the recession millions of people are unemployed and angry and are worried about today and not tomorrow.

On Monday the special issue of Phil Trans that Mark New and I edited with Tyndall's Kevin Anderson will come out with its focus on the world at 4 degrees C. It is a reminder of what we will face if we don't make progress in Cancun.

Cancun itself is vulnerable to climate change as ECI DPhil Arnoldo Matus Kramer is documenting in his dissertation in regard to risks of sea level rise and hurricanes. I hope that some of you attending Cancun get a chance to visit outside the hotel zone and see the amazing archaeological sites (such as Tulum or Chichen Itza) which are also reminders of what happens when society faces multiple stresses. The collapse of Mayan civilization in the Yucatan peninsula being a classic example of the intersection of increasing consumption, soil depletion and drought.
Diana Liverman
(former director of ECI and now co-director of the Institute of Environment at the University of Arizona and senior research fellow in ECI)

Friday, 26 November 2010

What a difference a year makes. Before Copenhagen, there was a tremendous sense of excitement and anticipation. Remember the slogan ‘Hopenhagen’? But President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, the new executive secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres, and just about every Western government official is downplaying the chances of any major advance at Cancun. Seems like Cancan’t.

Just compare the numbers of heads of state meant to be attending. Copenhagen had around 120. When I spoke this week to the Mexican foreign ministry, they were expecting around 20. Many of those are from Latin America and the Caribbean - there to offer some Latin solidarity to Mexico towards the end of the summit.

And the media? As our recent Reuters Institute study showed, about 4,000 journalists attended Copenhagen from 119 countries. We don’t know of a political event where more journalists were present. It wasn’t just the Western press who were there. Brazil and China both had more than 100 journalists there.

This time, the UNFCCC says half that figure has registered, but many are coming just for the last few days. The BBC, Washington Post and New York Times are all scaling back their coverage compared to Copenhagen.

There is bound to be less drama and excitement. But there is one consolation – the temperature in Cancun is around 27C at the moment. That’s got to be better than queuing (fruitlessly at times) in sub-zero temperatures in Copenhagen.

James Painter is the author of’ Summoned by Science’, a study of how the international media reported the Copenhagen summit. He will be at Cancun working for the BBC website,

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

UPDATE - The ECI blog is all set for your comments on Cancun 2010!

ECI alumni, affiliates, staff and students will be updating this blog as the negotiations are in progress.

COP16 takes place from 29 November - 10 December 2010.