Activists Prepare for Climate Change Summit in Cancun *
By Dawn Paley
Weeks away from the COP-16 summit on climate change in Cancún, activist networks across Mexico are busying themselves with plans to welcome at least 10,000 people to the biggest climate event of the year.
The primary coalition building towards the United Nations Climate Summit is called the Climate Dialogue, who is working together with Espacio Mexico, and whose endorsers range from Jubilee South to JustSeeds Artists Co-operative, from Friends of the Earth to Mexico’s National Electricians Union. For their part, Vía Campesina is working separately with other organizations to prepare an additional forum on the ground, and the KlimaForum, a government funded initiative which first launched at the COP-15 in Copenhagen, is also working towards organizing a convergence space in Cancún.
The city’s hotels are already booked out, and local organizers are working with different levels of government to secure access to venues and public spaces. It’s likely that many of the thousands of grassroots participants from around the world end up staying in tents and camps set up by one of the groups mentioned above.
REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
But the organizing work in Mexico in the lead up to the COP-16 isn’t just about mobilization. It’s about education, and in this case, about tackling complex issues like the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme, and the carbon market.
“The government of Mexico, along with other governments, is now saying we have to realize a ‘productive reconversion’ in the countryside,” said Gustavo Castro Soto, who works with Otros Mundos in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. He said one of the key challenges today is to do education and outreach around what the impacts of market based solutions can be.
“There is a lot of disinformation about what a Clean Development Mechanism is, and what REDD means, and this is not only among the campesino and Indigenous movements, but also among NGOs and environmental groups,” said Castro. “I don’t think the movement will be able to resist and confront these projects of clean development mechanisms, and the implementation of REDD, if they don’t understand what it is, and these are themes that are not well understood.”
Castro indicated that he felt that President Felipe Calderón offered to host the latest COP summit as a way of greening Mexico’s image, while at the same time attempting to secure access to the emerging carbon market.
This sentiment is shared by Cristian Guerrero, an organizer with Marea Creciente (Rising Tide) Mexico. Guerrero is working with a specifically anti-capitalist and anti-COP contingent in the lead up to the meeting. This group is called Anti-C@p, and its positions have been cause for some controversy among other environmental groups.
“The anti-capitalist aspect of it is really not taboo, we are really out front and okay with it, the anti-COP part of it is a little bit more touchy, it’s more sensitive, cause not everybody is ready to be anti-COP,” said Guerrero.
For his part, Guerrero thinks the COP is a “failed process” which he said is premised on “solutions” that include green capitalism and the carbon market. The Anti-C@p contingent is focused on fighting so called clean development mechanisms, which are in essence mega projects – including large dams, re-gasification plants, and enormous wind farms – planned for regions around Mexico.
“We’re looking for emissions reductions, but at the same time we know that the environmental crisis and how we’re going to address it doesn’t strictly come from the COP meeting or emissions reductions,” said Guerrero. “We need more local environmental protection initiatives coming from civil society, not coming from the government, particularly the Mexican government,” he said.
Other groups, including those organizing in solidarity with Bolivia and the statement that came out of the Cochabamba meeting on climate earlier this year, are planning to work from within COP-16, pushing for change from the inside.
But aside from the beehive of activities sponsored by local environmental and popular movements and non-governmental groups, the Mexican government has gotten behind the Klimaforum10. They’ve also made space for something called Climate Villa, a gathering focused on green businesses and corporate fixes to climate chaos that will also take place in Cancún during the COP-16.
Castro and Guerrero both pointed to a desire on the part of the Mexican government to appear environmentally friendly, even while encouraging new mega-projects with huge environmental footprints. These range from new highway construction in Mexico City to ever larger open pit mines in Northern Mexico, as well as dozens of proposed dams throughout the country.
Even though these local struggles don’t use a language around climate change, activists and organizers are making the connection, and the COP-16 is giving them an opportunity to get a leg up on building their analysis around the global impacts of these mega projects, as well as preparing for the next round of struggle against the implementation of market based solutions to climate change in the countryside.
“What we’re hoping to do in Cancún is have not more conferences, because all these initiatives and the COP in general is just an inundation of conferences and forums,” said Guerrero. “You’ll see us more in the streets, and you’ll see us more behind the curtains in the volunteer lines helping these other initiatives carry out their events,” he said.