How does the UNFCCC select its various locations for its annual climate change meets? What I am hinting at is, why Cancun? Why, for that matter, Copenhagen, Poznan or Bali? I have been told that cities vie for the honour, just like a sporting event such as the Olympics or the Asiad, and pay for it.
My first impression as I prepare myself to witness and attend my very first Conference of Parties (CoP) on climate change has been one of slightly incredulous awe, peppered with some degree of exhilaration at the sight of Cancun’s green-blue seas and almost spotless white sands. As our rickety American Airlines plane with its rather stiff-necked crew landed, we could see the city was well geared to welcome its CoP-16 delegates: armoured personnel carriers with manned machine guns ambled past even as genial officials ushered us into the ‘conference’ queues. Some of them even attempted to break into Hindi, with effusive ‘namastes’ and ‘aap kaisey hain’.
As we drove into the city, I once again asked myself, why Cancun? A pleasure haven for the rich and mighty – mostly from the US – Cancun seems as far removed from climate change and its vagaries as anything that may come to the mind. Exquisitely laid out, squeaky clean, with gigantic hotels jutting almost into the sea, and not a soul in sight except obsequious bellboys and attendants and their ilk, wealthy vacationers and of course, the black-clad, gun-toting security forces.
The conference is being hosted in the ‘hotel zone’. Delegates, observers and media personnel who have descended on to the city begin their day with a stroll on the beach or a swim in the ocean, followed by hearty breakfasts at their respective hotels, and then troop into the Moon Palace convention centre to discuss the changing climate and how to cope with it.
Hotels here, in fact, have developed an innovative way of identifying their guests – as soon as a conference guest checks in, an identification tag or band is clamped on to their wrists. The guests have to wear this tag throughout their stay, and especially as they tuck in the free meals which come with the package.
It’s a perfect, organized, sanitized world here at Cancun. And also a world which must be costing the earth as this massive jamboree gets going. In the 2009 CoP, over 13,000 observers, 10,000 parties and 3,000 media personnel had camped in Copenhagen – and a majority of them had flown in burning aircraft fuel. How many is Cancun playing host to? Nobody knows yet. But almost everybody -- beginning with our environment minister -- is sagely claiming that nothing would be achieved in Cancun. Why then are we indulging in this elaborate farce? Isn’t it time someone asked questions about the sustainability of such conferences?