Arriving in Cancun this weekend evoked memories of all the previous U.N. climate conventions I've attended since those heady days in Kyoto. Seeing so many of the same faces and hearing the same debates curiously provokes a combined feeling of familiarity and anxiety.
More than 15,000 people from 194 nations are attending this year's annual climate ritual. In contrast to last year, when no fewer than 120 heads of states attended the summit in Copenhagen in anticipation of sealing a meaningful deal, there were no such expectations of any real breakthrough in the lead up to this event.
But as the ministers begin to arrive at this resort on the Yucatán Peninsula, I sense the advent of some cautious optimism. In spite of hopes of a new climate treaty being so cruelly dashed in the Danish capital last year, human nature's propensity for resilience is evident in Mexico.
Creative sloganeering from the ever-energetic band of non-governmental organizations is one sure thing at these gatherings. We may not have the time to catch any sun during my week here, but having failed to turn "Hopenhagen" into reality last year, I am hoping that
Yes we CANcun" will go contagious.
Perhaps the unprecedented Sunday plenary address by Christiana Figueres, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's newly appointed Executive Secretary, will help to induce a positive outcome.
In her opening remarks at today's so-called "stock taking" session, the impressive Costa Rican encouragingly reported that "the conditions are in place to reach a broad and balanced package of decisions that leads to an era of increasingly effective global action on climate change."
With skullduggery having compromised previous talks, I was particularly heartened by her banning any informal sessions convened by ministers, as well as the prohibition of hidden texts and secret negotiations.
Figueres' tough stance should prevent a repeat of an infamously nasty moment at the Bali meeting in 2007 when her predecessor, Yvo de Boer, was publicly reduced to tears for being unfairly and extremely aggressively chastised by the Chinese delegation about clandestine overnight meetings to which they hadn't been invited.
Remedial measures are essential to the very survival of the UNFCCC process. While it may be unrealistic to expect a new treaty to emerge from these talks any time soon, the absence of tangible progress will inevitably provoke demands for the U.N. to scrap the whole initiative. As imperfect as they may be, these summits provide the best chance for any political action plan to curb global warming.
Demands to broaden the participation in these deliberations should therefore give cause for renewed optimism. Until now, it has only been government representatives that have had any official clout in the negotiations. I was encouraged to hear Figueres express how "happy" she is at the inclusion of agenda item 15 at this "Conference of the Parties," which calls for the official inclusion of other "stakeholders" in future discussions.
Anyone other than government delegates only has "observer" status at this and previous COPs. Arguably, it is due to pressure from NGOs in the early nineties that climate change became an international political issue in the first place.
With a growing number of corporations taking steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, it is hardly surprising that more business representatives are now attending this annual U.N. event. No one in their right mind would want to make the UNFCCC process any more complicated than it already is. But it is the dynamism of the private sector that will surely give these talks the boost they so badly need.
It is high time that ways are found to elevate the status of these important constituents.