The 16th Climate Summit has washed over us, and thankfully, this vital process is still alive. There were three possible outcomes insiders were predicting here at Cancun — stagnation, train wreck or fragile life line. We got the life line.
In the wee hours of the morning, on the last day of the talks, a consensus minus one — due to the vocal opposition of Bolivia — was reached. The gavel banged, and the UN representatives and NGO’s roared their applause. No one is calling the deal perfect — it’s definitely a compromise. But getting the world’s nations to come to any kind of a massive agreement like this is an incredible achievement.
Bolivia points to the lack of teeth in the deal, to the ambiguity around the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and the fact the 100 billion dollar climate finance package is intended to be administered by the World Bank, which is indeed problematic. World Bank funded mega projects are infamous for degrading the environment, and crippling developing nations with debt in a strategic and controlling maneuvers. We definitely should not be giving that fox the keys to the chicken shack.
But these issues will be up for continuing discussion next year in Durban, and the process has definitely rebounded from the calls of backroom deals and lack of transparency of the last COP in Copenhagen, which left the whole process in a shambles.
Concerted efforts were made to ensure transparency, and while that doesn’t stop the bullying tactics of the U.S. — with it’s oversized emissions and matching sense of self importance — there has been real progress in making the process more just. The UN isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got, and it’s a step in the right direction, as humanity comes together to tackle the greatest challenge we have ever faced.
As I immersed myself in the world of climate change here in Cancun, it became less and less an abstract issue. I found myself looking straight into the eyes of people on the front lines of climate catastrophe — like the beautiful people of Kiribati, who’s island nations are in danger of drowning due to rising sea levels.
“For us, it is more than a loss of land that’s at stake — it’s a loss of our very identity.” They performed their songs during one poignant side event. Particularly moving was the “Song of the Frigate,” written years before they knew of sea level rise or global warming, this prophetic song tells of a frigate bird that leaves their island home of Kiribati in search of food for her young, only to find, upon her return, that the island has disappeared beneath the sea. The haunting refrain “rise up, rise up Kiribati” brought tears to my eyes.
As Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, told me in a powerful interview — climate change isn’t something that’s happening to future generations anymore. It’s happening now. It’s one huge global experiment, and none of the scientists predicted it would start unravelling this fast.
My search, as always, is for the stories of hope — the love stories as I’m calling them in my current feature doc project, EVOLVE LOVE: Love in a Time of Climate Crisis. And I certainly found them here in Cancun. The sheer diversity of the people stepping up to the plate to take action, to recognize the gravity of the situation, and the willingness to step across political, economic and cultural divides is astounding.
There are global alliances of grass roots groups like Tck Tck Tck, representing millions of people. There are indigenous people marching side by side with campesinos, with workers, with NGO’s and, dancing to their solar powered beat box, the inevitable gaggle of well intentioned hippies who seem to be able to dance endlessly. There are scientists, there are remarkable statesmen, and there are remarkable presidents, who are stepping into their calling in this time of great crisis.
The indigenous President Evo Morales of Bolivia is the most vocal of them all, and also the lone world leader to leave the compound of the Moon Palace, to address the people on the outside.
It was a beautiful moment when he took the stage at La Via Campesina, under a hail of white flower petals, as a double rainbow appeared in the sky overheard. As Ofelia Rivas, O’dham, co-chair of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples at the Cochabamba, told Red Road Cancun, “As grassroots people, we needed to hear that strength in his voice. The strength of the people was confirmed by the double full rainbow when President Morales arrived.”
What became clear is that while we absolutely need these talks at the nation state level, we also can’t wait around — there is no time to lose. Change needs to begin, from the bottom up, all over the world. City by city, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, we need to make the transition to a carbon free future happen ourselves.
The gathering at COP 16 was yet another stepping stone towards the formation of the groundswell that needs to happen if we’re going to turn the corner on this one. The solutions need to come from every corner, from every walk of life.
The wonderful thing is that the transition does not mean a lifestyle downgrade… in fact, what’s best for the planet, is also best for humanity. And what if all this global warming talk is just a big hoax — and we end up creating a sustainable world, with stronger communities, local economies, fresh air, fresh water and healthy ecosystems, all for nothing? Hmmmm.