Invoking Reason at COP 16

Yesterday the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 6th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to its Kyoto Protocol (KP) kicked off in Cancun, Mexico.  The opening ceremony as usual helped set the tone of the event.  After having attended four COPs and a few intercessional UNFCCC meetings, one thing I always look forward to is the opening of the COP.  In addition to speeches by local politicians, the head of state, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and a representative of the science community, there is always an element showcasing the local culture.  While we are here to work, I still think it important to make sure that there be some symbolism as to why we are meeting in that specific part of the world (in this case Cancun) for such an event .

A few key elements were prominent during the opening that I would like to highlight.  First was the incredible speech given by Simona Gomez, a representative of the Mexican indigenous groups.  She spoke of how the climate in her native of Chiapas had changed and how her community of 6,000 needed alternate sources of income in addition to the handicraft trade.  The solution, she said, could be twofold:  getting paid to reforest a denuded area coupled with effective management strategies for local resources would mean the creation of jobs and saving the

environment.  As she spoke I could not help but think about the millions of indigenous people across the world who have been waiting for the day to be able to play a role in decision making processes that affect the resources on which they depend.  She ended her speech with:  “you who are so well prepared, know a lot . . .”  I asked myself if we the delegates, many representing political nation states, do in fact “know a lot.”  For if we did know this then surely we would know that the urgency of the issue requires immediate action to safeguard against planetary ecological collapse.  Surely we would know that the fate of future generations rested upon the only forum for addressing climate change.

The fate of the future generations was mentioned a few times in the opening.  A beautiful video prepared for the opening ceremony showed children with eyes closed or covered by cloth.  Their message was this:  “you grownup decision makers were children once too and had a vision of a perfect world.  You were inspired by the beauty of the planet.  Don’t close your eyes.  Don’t cease to see inspiration.  Let inspiration help you make the right decision.”  I am certain that a lot of the message was probably lost in translation.  Later, President Calderon of Mexico also encouraged the delegates to think of the children during the negotiations regardless of color or political boundaries because climate change understood neither.  Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

It was the need for reason that made Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, invoke Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, happiness and reason, during her speech.  We are after all, in the land of the ancient Maya and we must tap the creativity and intelligence of that civilization to move the UNFCCC process forward.  We must also take lessons from history and recall that the Mayan civilization collapsed for many reasons, one of which might have been diminishing resources.  Let not the collective modern human civilization go the same way especially when we hold our future in our own hands.  Let us invoke reason.  May the Mayan goddess Ixchel watch over these proceedings.