Climate Change blog
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Emily Kirkland:
Fascinated, overwhelmed, and amused by circus and spectacle

Parts of the climate change conference in Cancun are likely to be surreal, Emily Kirkland ’14 writes. Even though the issues at stake are urgent, and the situation fairly dire, the conference has taken on the tone of a well-rehearsed play. Kirkland is among 10 Brown students attending the conference with J. Timmons Roberts, director of the Center for Environmental Studies and professor of sociology.
By Emily Kirkland  |  December 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

After a long day of travel, I arrived in Cancun last night at about 6 o’clock. My inaugural experience here at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was an odd one: a party at Señor Frogs.

Señor Frogs — the beloved hangout of spring breakers and frat boys everywhere — was also the site of the not-to-be-missed Cancun NGO party. For one night, representatives from hundreds of different NGOs came together to schmooze, dance, and drink margaritas. (There were Jello shots on offer, but I didn’t see many takers.) It was nothing if not surreal. Most people stood in small groups, discussing the progress of the negotiations. Even as hip-hop music blared from the loudspeakers, the focus was the jargon-heavy world of the UNFCC: AWG—LCA, commitment periods, the SBSTA.

Already, after one day here, I’m beginning to sense that many things about this experience are going to be surreal. Even though the issues at stake are urgent, and the situation fairly dire, the conference has taken on the tone of a well-rehearsed play. In open plenary sessions and closed-door meetings, the delegates squabble over acronyms and the placement of commas. At side events, academics and development professionals present new ideas and programs. Meanwhile, at the alternative meeting places, activists, hippies, and troublemakers are busy planning marches, holding workshops, and constructing puppets. This is the 16th Conference of the Parties on climate change; some of the people here have been negotiating since I was two feet tall. At this point, everyone knows just what role they’re here to play.

For now, the goal is to make incremental progress on a few key issues. One example is REDD (Reducing Emissions from Forest Degradation and Deforestation), a program that will provide funding to help reduce deforestation in developing countries. Issues like indigenous rights and land tenure have been contentious, but there’s hope that an agreement over REDD can be reached in the next few days.

For now, I’m still just trying to get my bearings. I feel confident that on some things, at least, there is progress being made. And I’m fascinated, overwhelmed, and a least a little bit amused by the circus and the spectacle that is the COP16.