COP16 Climate Talks Kick Off in Cancun, Mexico – So What?

Cross-posted to Daily Kos.

UNFCCC Climate Conferences

Representatives from countries around the world gathered today in Cancun, Mexico for the COP16 climate talks which will continue for the next 12 days. This is the first round of talks by the UNFCCC (United Nations Frameworks Conventions on Climate Change) since last year’s COP15 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

COP15 last year failed to produce a world-wide agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which was expected by a large majority of the world’s population. Therefore, expectations for COP16 this year are very low. Notably different this year is the stated intention of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to cooperate with politicians and negotiators rather than play an adversarial role.

Commentary in simple terms for people who care:

Climate Change negotiations among almost 200 countries is hard work. Contrast this with personal life: I live in a house with 13 people, and we call ourselves an “intentional community.” We pride ourselves with being mindful. Some of us even meditate regularly. Most of the individuals in the community are intelligent, passionate people who care about the environment and each other. Yet when it comes to “group think” there is a moron-level stupidity that descends and takes hold on the group, to the point where we can’t even agree that having a lock on the bathroom door is essential to personal security and privacy, despite several incidents of tenants having their privacy violated and one outright attack by one former tenant against another.

So what does this have to do with climate change negotiations? Everything.

When 2 or more people in a group attempt to make decisions that affect the whole group, antics ensue. Even stupidity descends.

Nobody is calling anybody stupid here: well, except the moron at my house who doesn’t respect privacy rights. Bringing it back home to COP16:

COP16 Pyramid of Hope

This morning the global TckTckTck campaign and its partners presented UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres with a six by three metre Mayan style “Pyramid of Hope”. The monument with the message “Let’s put the Can in Cancun!” is made of “crucial building blocks” for a safe climate on which negotiators gathering in Cancun should agree in order to move the world towards a strong global climate action plan.

Examples of the key building blocks include a climate fund to support low-carbon development and adaptation to climate impacts in vulnerable countries, the need to close the gap between emission cuts needed and those pledged by countries so far, a shared vision that limits global warming to 1.5ºC, and a deal to protect forests as crucial carbon sinks. Christiana Figueres made her mark and set the cornerstone, representing the spirit of solidarity and compromise needed to hold it all together.

“There is a huge global movement of people demanding a low-carbon future and sending a clear signal that politicians have a mandate to take the bold steps needed to tackle climate change,” said Paul Horsman, TckTckTck Campaign Director. “Our pyramid represents the collective will of millions of people around the world who demand action. They are rolling up their sleeves and making a difference in their lives, and they want negotiators to show the same spirit and deliver the building blocks for success.”

More commentary in simple terms for people who care:

The pyramid is very pretty. So is the artwork from the 350 Earth Project. Click here to view the great photos from 350 Earth. These actions are inspiring on a grass-roots level and demonstrate the commitment that ordinary citizens around the world have to climate action.

However, do they really demand action from the world’s climate negotiators?

Last year in Copenhagen, amidst all the controversy about science vs. anti-science and the so-called demonstrations pitting NGOs against UNFCCC negotiators, here’s a quick recap of what was happening on the ground:

  • NGOs focused on climate action were in Copenhagen to support the efforts of UNFCCC negotiators
  • What the media and local Danish police called “Demonstrations” were initially organized as “Support Rallies” to show support for the negotiations process
  • A few demonstrators pulled shenanigans designed as publicity stunts and gained media attention
  • The UNFCCC shut out all NGOs from the talks during the final 2 days because of the influx of politicians from the United States and other countries, as well as the media attention on the so-called NGO demonstrations
  • Antagonism between NGOs and the UNFCCC did not occur until after the NGO shutout by the UNFCCC
  • Climate talks broke down when developed nations refused to commit to GHG reductions
  • President Obama of the United States announces the “Copenhagen Accord” which accomplishes absolutely nothing, and the Obama administration is immediately deemed the laughing stock of the climate action movement.

This year at COP16, the NGOs under the umbrella of TckTckTck and the Global Campaign for Climate Action have earned a seat at the table so to speak, and are taking efforts to make sure the “climate” at the climate talks is more cooperative and positively focused than last year.

Having been at COP15 last year and witness to what actually happened on the ground, I’m left wondering: have the NGOs become politicians this year? Because from what I saw in Copenhagen, the NGOs were bending over backwards trying to accommodate the UNFCCC and were still ultimately shut out of the process when push came to shove. So this year, the message is clear: don’t incite the troops. Don’t annoy the UNFCCC. Don’t be incendiary.

So… the Pyramid of Hope.

Let’s see how it goes the next 12 days….

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your comment. Green Media News applauds the work you do. My commentary is not intended to diminish the commitment or creativity with which TckTckTck operates.

TckTckTck, the world’s NGOs, climate scientists, the climate action movement itself, and the UNFCCC are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Uncooperative governments like the U.S. and Canada are taking efforts to block climate legislation of any kind, if not to derail the science completely. This unfortunately makes a lot of what goes on at these climate talks subject to all kinds of commentary, not only from skeptics, but from idealists, and everyone in between.

Your work is vital to progress, even though I may give a jab here and there. In order for change to happen at scale, it takes multiple layers of action: grass-roots activism, top-down governmental action, bottom-up sub-national action, and the attention of the media to raise awareness and — hopefully — to raise the bar of intelligent conversation, instead of lower it as the FOX-GOP has done.

The goal of Green Media News is to raise the bar of intelligent debate in America.

For what it’s worth, I aim with my blog to engage all sides (politicians, NGOs, UNFCCC negotiators, bloggers, journalists, scientists, and concerned citizens) equally with my commentary, until real solutions are brought to the table and implemented across the board.

I appreciate you Paul, for reading my commentary and responding. Even more for the work that you do, and for your patience for process which is far greater than my own.

I think we’ll be at this for a while.


Hi Evan,

It is the politics not the process which is the problem. None of us would claim that the UNFCCC is perfect by any stretch, but in terms of the real problem, these are caused by the governments because in whatever forum these governments discuss these issues – the same problems arise. Blaming the UNFCCC for failure lets the real culprits – governments unwilling to commit and compromise – off the hook. Indeed blaming the UNFCCC is EXACTLY what the US, and other laggard governments are doing themselves and adopting this line simply plays into their hands.



Nice overview with a personal touch. But what I really love is the larger question you ask–does a big paper? pyramid really count or is just another ‘hands across the sand’ kumbaya moment that counts as zero pressure but much effort?

That’s not a rhetorical question, mind you. I may have may opinions–and it seems as though you do as well–but the jury is out. I’m all for the most effective combination of messaging…but do worry that perhaps we’re pouring too much into ‘bending over backwards’ as you say.

Very keen to read your thoughts moving forward this week.