KU IGERT trainees travel to Cancun for COP16


By Linda Williams
Winter 2011

Having read news reports of the demonstrations, arrests, and general chaos at COP15 in Copenhagen in December 2009, I was interested in understanding what groups would be attending COP16 in Cancun, what they would do, and how the government would respond. Three trainees, including myself, from the NSF C-CHANGE (Climate Change, Humans and Nature in the Global Environment) IGERT program decided to go to Cancun for five days to observe unofficial activities outside of the UN meetings.

Linda Williams

Photo 1: Linda Williams outside the Climate Village. The Climate Village was put on by the Mexican government and targeted citizens.

One undeniable observation is that Cancun is a city affected by environmental forces. On the beach just outside our hotel there was a three-foot drop where the sand had been washed away by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It is very close to sea level, built on sand and dependent on a stable climate for its economic livelihood. Tourism is also crucial to Cancun. For me, this created an impression of disconnection, as creating amenities designed to bolster international tourism does not always lend itself to creating a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. Another disconnect was the physical location of key meetings and venues, which were spread across Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The main meetings were held at the Moon Palace, and official side activities were held at Cancunmessa. The two venues are miles apart from one another.

The Mexican government set up a Climate Village (Villa de cambio climatico), which included an interactive exhibit for children, an art exhibit, a forum for speakers, and a pavilion for businesses to showcase their eco-friendly products. It appeared well-organized, and the exhibit for children was engaging.

Anna Kern

Photo 2: Fellow IGERT trainee Anna Kern at the HP display, which featured television screens with videos and messages from around the world adressing the need for swift and effective action at the conference.

Security was omnipresent in the city. On the eight-mile drive from the airport to our hotel, we saw two police checkpoints. There were additional checkpoints as far as eighty miles from Cancun as well as police and military checkpoints at the exits for the official venues. There were also military ships off the coast near the Moon Palace, where the main meetings were held. Several locals we spoke to commented on the increased police and military presence, although many of the demonstrations and vocal activities took place the second week of the conference, after we left and the national leaders arrived.

Citizens we spoke to were aware of the meeting, and while they did not seem too interested in the actual proceedings, no one expressed skepticism in climate change. Although we were not able to attend the official meetings, seeing the Mexican government’s response to the meeting and having an opportunity to talk to citizens was a great opportunity.