Tuesday, December 7th, in downtown Cancun, thousands of locals, NGOs and community groups took to the streets, mobilizing for climate justice in the wake of the UNFCCC negotiations. People carrying large banners, beating drums and chanting in unison, marched through busy streets filled with curious onlookers for almost two miles to draw attention to various issues surrounding climate change and its impacts. Countless local and state groups from Mexico and other parts of Latin America joined together, including the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade, the Indigenous Group Tepehuano of UNORCA (National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasants Organizations), and the Indigenous and Ecological Federation of Chiapas. Mexican chapters of organizations like Friends of the Earth, 350.org, Oxfam, and Greenpeace were also present and adding to the commotion.
While the nuances of their causes varied, the tone of the people gathering was clear: urgent action on climate change is vital. Perhaps the most vocal of the groups present at the march were the Mayan community members, who were teamed up with the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) and the Organization of Forest Producers' Cooperatives of the Zona Maya (OEPFZM), to express their dissatisfaction with the Mexican government for withholding compensation owed to them for an extreme decade-long drought, which has devastated corn crops, food security, and Mayan livelihoods.
The Mayan community is calling for drastic cuts in greenhouse gases by industrial countries, and immediate assistance for adapting to impacts of climate change, like the drought. Some feel it is possible that come Friday, when the UNFCCC talks come to a close, negotiations will establish a fund that will adequately help vulnerable communities cope with their changing climate. State Secretary Emiliano Ramos, felt fairly optimistic that progress could be made on issues that affect the world's poorest (he gauged his level of optimism at a "5" on a scale of one to ten), but others were not so hopeful. A man representing an indigenous group of UNORCA, had lost all faith in negotiations and just wanted emergency help of some kind for his climate-related hardships.
Victor Menotti, Executive Director of IFG, felt what was needed most from developed countries was real commitments, not just pledges. He expressed hopes that there would be "goodwill and cooperation [in talks] and that governments would come to their senses" but that it would take "a lot of noise on the street to make that happen."
As we marched with the people through the avenues of downtown Cancun under the hot midday sun, the energy of the group seemed endless. Our final destination was the Palacio Municipal where we expected people to disperse, or at least sit down to rest. But upon arriving, there was a stage set up complete with live music and MC, and giant house-sized corn cob structures illustrating (with a touch of humor) the plight of the indigenous Mayan farmer. The crowd was instantly reinvigorated and the mobilization continued on for hours.
With Friday's outcome still hanging in the balance, the fate of the Mayan farming community and many other vulnerable areas around the world that are most heavily affected by decreases in rainfall and other environmental changes, is unknown. Hopefully Tuesday's noise on the street caught the attention of negotiators not far down the road at the Moon Palace conference center.