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Meet the Real Planet Envoys in Cancun

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CANCUN, Mexico -- The annual climate change conference in Cancun winds down; meet the real planet envoys whose work does not revolve around the ifs and buts of working out a climate change treaty.

10-year-old Alek Howland has a very clear idea of the kind of planet he wants his children to live in, and he intends to fight for it. "This is a good planet and this is a bad planet," he said, pointing to two globes -- one is blue with dolphins and trees, while the other is dark grey with garbage and sinking land.

A 30-minute bus ride away from where Howland is showing the two globes to people visiting a fair called "Climate Village" in Cancun, world diplomats are working furiously behind closed doors to hammer out agreements combat climate change. They only have a few hours left.

Plagued by longstanding differences, the annual negotiations aren't getting very far but people aren't ready to wait around for governments to find a solution. At the Climate Village, activists, students and civil society organizations from Mexico are making their own stand with a focus on educating children.

Howland has made these globes with his classmates who study at Instituto Tepeyac in Playa Del Carmen city on the outskirts of Cancun. These students tell visitors why climate change is happening and how they can protect the planet.

Younger children are sprawled out on the floor sketching pictures of the earth and writing call to action slogans. "Some countries are not interested in helping but we can by putting garbage in the trash, saving water and not wasting electricity," Howland said.

The contrast between these simple solutions and the complicated texts being discussed by bureaucrats typifies the disconnect between the world of the haggling negotiators and the voice of the people.

While officials are wrestling with each other, Alicia Gonzalez de Rosel fiddled with keys and earphones of a computer under a banner that calls on people to send messages to world leaders. Rosel, a 36-year-old business woman came with her husband, Marcos Rosel Baquedano, and her three children to to learn about climate change.

The sentiment of "just get on with it" seems lost on the delegates at Cancun who haven't been able to compromise on issues they have been discussing for years. The toughest decisions have been for fobbed off for next year's meeting in South Africa.

Ricardo Gonazlez, who sells T-shirts with the words "Live in harmony with nature," at the fair doesn't believe that the solution lies in these meetings. "I don't think we need these negotiations," he said. "I think teaching young children in schools and home will help protect the climate better."

The 19-year-old student is part of the Scouts del Caribe, a group of scouts who carry out a diverse set of activities to improve the environment around them. They clean beaches, don't use air conditioners, plant trees and organize carpools.

The scouts group conducts specialized projects for young children who, every October and November, pick up crabs from the lagoons and release them into the Caribbean Sea.

"These are on moonlit nights so it really is quite romantic," laughed Hector Coutreras, a 42-year-old engineer who volunteers his time with the children. "Every year we can see the losses so if we don't work with the children then who will save the planet."

The lumbering talks once again faced the anger of protesters and their colorful paraphernalia, which exhorted governments to act. Some environmental activists dived into the sea, while others performed sketches depicting the grim fate of the planet.

"This year I'm sure they (people) do expect from us that we can make new necessary important steps leading to specific action," said Connie Hedegaard, the top climate negotiator from the European Union. "I think we owe that to the global citizens...we cannot leave Cancun empty handed."

The NGOs and activists, however, are lodged in a building far away from where the negotiations are being carried out, and the din of the demonstrations never makes it to the halls of diplomacy.

In one corner of the Climate Village sits 50-year-old, Ruo Calderon, in a long green habit, with the "Earth Charter" laid out on the table for people to sign and leave messages.

"It's a tragedy what's going on there... nothing is going to happen," he said, gesturing vaguely somewhere in the direction of the hotel where the talks are being held. "The NGOs have to become more powerful than the government."

The Earth Charter has emerged as social document in the past two decades with support from figures like former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands.

Inside the beautifully decorated Charter prepared by Calderon, is a poem by the 13 century king, Nezahualcoyotl, who is called the "poet king" in Mexico. "Lets leave at least flowers, lets leave at least songs," wrote the Aztec king.

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