After almost 12 hours of traveling due to flight delays, my colleague and I completed our journey from San Francisco to Cancun, Mexico. We were greeted by a warm ocean breeze, friendly helpful locals, and banners for the COP16 UN Climate Change Conference decorating every inch of the city. We instantly knew we were in the right place.
Our studio is situated on the west end of the hotel zone, closer to the Cancunmesse and Moon Palace conference centers than the infamous discoteca nightlife. But, famished, we ventured toward the bright lights in the hopes of finding an authentic Mexican dinner. Despite humble requests to our cab driver to take us someplace "tranquilo," we found ourselves dropped off in the heart of Cancun among giant, warehouse-sized designer shops (Louis Vuitton, Chanel), American chain restaurants (Outback Steakhouse, Applebees), and gargantuan night clubs with bumping baselines audible from miles away. This was not the Mexico either of us had ever been to -- or imagined. In fact, it bore a greater resemblance to Las Vegas.
Fearing our search for authentic Mexican food would end at a Taco Bell, we asked a nearby club promoter for advice, and after some labored thought, he pointed us to our only option: a pricey, upscale restaurant complete with Mariachi band, white linens, and an indoor fountain. After dinner (which was delicious), we were saddened to see among the glitz and scantily clad club-goers, several child beggars, and mothers with infants in tow, selling trinkets to tourists. The stark contrast, though not so different from that of many large cities, hinted at an interesting parallel to the conference in town. I was instantly reminded of an article I read on the trip over here that described Cancun as the "suicide capital" of Mexico. Climate change is contributing to the migration of many people out of rural areas of Mexico where crops have become harder to manage and resources harder to gather. But, as people have moved into the city, the divide in urban areas between locals and tourists has led to a culture of extreme poverty, hopelessness, and depression.
As week one of the conference wrapped up, the divide between rich and poor, and inequalities within negotiations were also apparent in many ways. Talks appear to favor the rich, as developed countries have a much greater number of participating delegates and negotiators than developing countries, thus stacking the cards against poorer countries with fewer resources to attend meetings and interpret information.
Also, the Kyoto Protocol has become the subject of heated debate, as Japan, Russia, and Canada have all rejected a second commitment period under the agreement. This move has sparked objections from developing countries who feel major emitting countries should continue to be held accountable for the targets set under Kyoto.
The impacts of climate change, as we know, disproportionately affect the poor, who are more reliant on natural resources and less able to cope with environmental changes and natural disasters. And the impacts are growing. As was reported in talks this week, an estimated 1 million deaths a year by 2030 and $157 billion in damage will result from climate change. Also reported, was the likelihood that 2010 would rank among the three hottest years in recorded history, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Speaking with a few locals during our first days here, we received mixed responses to the conference which has invaded the town. One cab driver didn't actually believe that climate change was happening, but more importantly he didn't appreciate the inflated security around Cancun which was making it hard for the locals to "party" -- and thus harder for him to run his business. Apparently, groups of machine gun-toting policemen are a deterrent for the normally hassle-free recreational drug use in Cancun's Party Central. We're looking forward to gaining further insight to the local views of the conference this week ... outside of Party Central.