Coates in Cancun: the stakes are high

This is the first in a series of guest blogs from the Cancun climate conference by Oxfam NZ’s executive director Barry Coates.

I’m sitting in the warm evening air of Cancun after the first day of the climate change talks. It was quite a trip getting here – I came from Timor Leste and the journey took 60 hours!

It was a great preparation for me to go to Timor Leste first. It is the poorest Asian country, still recovering from a bloody and traumatic struggle for independence. I visited some remote rural agricultural cooperatives with Oxfam’s partner, Movimento Cooperativo Economico Agricola (MCE-A). These were small growers, generally farming a hectare of customary land and working on a larger plot with other members of the cooperative. They have recently increased their income through support from MCE-A. They use a revolving loan scheme to invest in hand-tractors and milling machines, and have dramatically improved yields from sustainable rice intensification using permaculture techniques. It is a really inspiring programme that is driven by the cooperatives themselves. You can read about their work here.


But in a country with high levels of malnutrition and months without enough food, these farmers have just experienced a disaster. This is not one we read about in the papers but one of the many thousands of disasters that happen around the world, affecting farmers such as those in Zumalai in Timor Leste. During the dry season they had unprecedented levels of heavy rainfall that caused floods and damaged their irrigation canals. The communities of Zumalai live a tenuous existence and disasters like this are the difference between them and their children having enough food for their needs – or not.

This is a typical situation faced by farmers around the world. Weather has become more extreme and unpredictable, and seasons have changed significantly over recent years. This is the backdrop for Oxfam’s new report Now More Than Ever: Climate talks that work for those who need them most, which says that 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of 2010 – more than twice the number for the whole of 2009. This year is on course to experience more extreme-weather events than the last ten-year average. Many countries have also broken heat records, with Pakistan logging 53.7°C – the highest ever in Asia.

These are the people who did little to cause climate change. But they are the ones suffering most. This is a good reminder of why we are in Cancun.

Behind these numbers are the stories of people’s lives. Not only millions of people suffering from the massive flooding in Pakistan or those affected by heat waves in Russia, but all of those whose destroyed lives and livelihoods never make it into the statistics or the media. It is the flooding affecting people in places like Zumalai in Timor Leste or the low-lying coasts of Bangladesh. It is those suffering from cyclones, king tides and sea swells in small islands across the Pacific. It is people struggling to cope with droughts across the arid zones of sub-Saharan Africa, and even in unexpected places like the Papua New Guinea Highlands. These are the people who did little to cause climate change. But they are the ones suffering most. This is a good reminder of why we are in Cancun.

When I arrived here, I was roped into Oxfam’s campaign launch, featuring a great image on the beach. This giant message in a bottle says “Urgent: Save lives in Cancun” and has featured in newspapers and websites around the world. I also joined in an opening event for the Global Campaign for Climate Action (the TckTckTck campaign). Yesterday, TckTckTck and partners built a ‘Mayan Pyramid of Hope’. Pyramids were built through collective will, and the ‘Pyramid of Hope’ serves as an affirmation of this collective will, showing what can be achieved if we work together. It is a message from tens of thousands of people around the world representing their aspirations for concrete action and real progress in Cancun. The pyramid is covered with photographs of people taking action in their communities to tackle climate change. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres wrote her hopes on one of the pyramid’s building blocks: “Commitment and compromise”.

The negotiations started today. Not much to report, except for the usual highs and lows of political game-playing. The bad news was that Japan said that they would not, under any conditions, agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (which would mean that they would agree to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions after the end of 2012, when the first commitment period runs out). It is a bit ironic that it is Japan, the home of the Kyoto Protocol that is joining the US in not agreeing to these reduction commitments. The danger is that other countries, notably Canada and Russia, but also Australia and (shamefully) New Zealand, are likely to use this announcement to hide behind Japan and “kill” the Kyoto Protocol. This is a serious setback. The “like-minded countries” already went ahead in 1997 and signed the Kyoto Protocol without the US. But the like-minded group looks a lot smaller without those other countries as well. The EU is unlikely to agree to go it alone. This is a blow to many developing countries that have signalled their willingness to reduce emissions themselves. Even tough negotiators like China are making long-term commitments to reduce their emissions through renewable energy, clean technologies and shutting down polluting factories.

The good news from Day One is that a number of countries have made statements saying how important it is to make progress – to pick up the pieces after Copenhagen and move on. There are real gains that can be made on issues such as establishing a new climate fund that would channel money to the countries bearing the brunt of climate change, particularly the small and vulnerable nations (such as the Pacific islands), and to support emissions reductions in the developing world. And progress is possible on getting an agreement on adaptation and technology transfer. Other agreements that may come from Cancun are potentially more problematic – I will report out on the discussions around forests later this week. So the good news today is ‘mood music’ but a refreshing change after the trauma of Copenhagen.

But now it is late and I’m still in recovery mode, trying to figure out what time zone I’m in. I may miss a day or two of blogging this week while things are a bit slow, but I’ll write daily posts when Environment Ministers and some heads of state roll into Cancun next week.

I’ll leave you with the words of the negotiator from Tuvalu, again toughly defending their right to survive as communities, as a culture and as a nation: “Give life to KP (the Kyoto Protocol) or take the lives of people in vulnerable island countries”. The stakes are high in Cancun.

55 thoughts on “Coates in Cancun: the stakes are high”

  1. The only reason these environistas and climate junkies are holding their global warming swapfest in Cancun is so they can look out the window and not be embarrassed by blizzards and record low temperatures again. As happened last year in Copenhagen. They need hot weather to help their failing cause. Blizzards would make them look like “morons, cheats and liars” again.

    1. Hmmm, my understanding is that these events are planned a few years in advance Joe. Mexico as the host country was likely decided in either Bali or Poznan (Poland).

      The host country is a little tactical. Denmark would have been seen as a strong advocate for a Kyoto type deal to host an important summit. Mexico is seen as a balanced voice that represents low latitude nations as well being balanced between developed and developing country needs (especially on issues like finance). South Africa is picked for the next conference for similar reasons; to represent the voice of Africa and also the large emitting BASIC block.

    2. Joe Fony: You are so totally ignorant aren’t you? Have you got no idea actually why the arctic weather patterns are so messed up?
      The reason is a very different pattern of weather distribution than what we are used to in the Arctic and Gareth has talked about this to a level that even you could understand in his latest climate show.
      You can also read more about it here:

  2. “Pyramids were built through collective will” – interesting way to describe slave labour!

    But moving on to the important stuff. Surely digging the trenches over the Kyoto Protocol is the wrong approach for Oxfam / Tuvalalu etc? The Kyoto Protocol only includes 19.5% of global emissions. It is not the be all and end all of these negotiations. It is far more important to get commitments from China-USA-India-Canada. We know nations like Japan and The EU will take action regardless of commitments. It is these fringe nations the negotiations need to bring in.

    Also the Kyoto Protocol could have done more harm than good. Sure it created a global carbon market. But it also presented a framework with large economic cost. This in turn helped to drive the bad ETS sentiment in the US-Canada-AU-NZ cultures today. Better to move forward with a more positive framework.

    1. I’m interested in feedback to this comment if everyone can stop discussing the differences between manmade climate change and climate change for a sec. Any thoughts on the importance of the KP at these negotiations?

      1. Obviously developing countries wish to see continuance of the KP, or a tighter version of it. This is consistent with ‘common by differentiated responsibilities” mantra. It is in their (short term?) economic interests. There are many facts they can use to support such an argument – per capita emissions, historical emissions…

        Such a course has a number of problems, including coverage of emissions (environmental effectiveness) and economic damages. Which is why the pledges by most developed countries in the AWG-KP process contain caveats such as measurable and verifiable efforts from developing countries.

        I’m not convinced the KP sets up a large economic cost, as there were plenty of ‘low hanging fruit’ by which to meet the targets. Example #1: eastern european AAU floods that can drive the cost of acheivement to near zero. Additionally, any national ETS can be set up to reduce economic costs to low levels in the short term through free allocations or delaying the entry of sectors.

        It is worth reading the recent history of negotiations linked to in a previous thread:

        And to follow the daily developments:

    1. Well Bob, you really know your stuff.

      “Climate change is real”

      Wow, and I though the climate stayed the same forever.

      We really enjoy watching morons like you cheerleading for this money grabbing scam. Heck, even the IPCC authors admit its about wealth transfer to the developing world.

      I sure hope Mr Coates enjoys his trip to sunny Mexico, paid for my the generous people who actually thought they were giving money to starving Africans, not imagined ones supported by political advocacy organisations pretending to be charities, so they can go on junkets to sunny resorts.

      If Oxfam, or any of its cronies, ever comes anywhere near me asking for money, I will tell them where to shove it.

      We are sick to death of this bullshit.

      1. Again, don’t just ignore it – make sure you click it away. These two need to learn how to behave themselves in a public forum. Or, since they’re not really attempting to contribute, to discover that their abusive rants are simply futile.

  3. This is what depresses me about Cancun. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has made a submission recording its work to date including:

    “1) further endorsement of the global aspirational goal of 2 per cent annual fuel efficiency improvement up to year 2050;
    2) a medium-term global aspirational goal from 2020 that would ensure that while the international aviation sector continues to grow, its global CO2 emissions would be stabilized at 2020 levels;
    3) further work to explore the feasibility of a long-term global aspirational goal for international aviation;”

    The last one in particular makes you want to cry. As the planet burns the aviation industry have solemnly committed to:
    – further work
    – to explore
    – the feasibility
    – of an aspirational goal
    – which isnt even immediate

    Kafka would be proud.

    Full document at:

  4. Bob Bingham: “Joe, you obviously think that climate change is some kind of scam but it is real and it is happening now.”

    Wrong! I have never said climate change is a scam. Just “manmade” climate change. There’s a huge difference. When are you alarmists going to cotton on to that?

    1. How can you possibly deny the facts. The ‘Normal’ level of CO2 is 280 ppm and we are now at 390 ppm. The extra comes from burning coal and oil. There are no secrets there. Go and look it up. Its not difficult but it may be unpalatable.

  5. You’re missing the point. You said that I think “climate change is a huge scam”. But as is common to you AGW/climate alarmists, you failed to specify and distinguish between natural and manmade. Maybe that’s because you actually don’t know that Nature is quite capable of changing the climate all by itself, without any help from mankind. If you did know that, you’d distinguish between natural climate change and manmade climate, rather than just using the broad term “climate change” when trying to worm your way out of an argument about it. If you understood anything about the planet’s geological history, you’d know the difference. Clearly you don’t.

    1. If the natural world was left to its own cycles the CO2 would range between 180 PPM and 280 PPM and the temperature would be steadily cooling. CO2 is now at 390 ppm and the temperature is going up.
      That’s not difficult to understand, There are plenty of plots of the last 800,000 years and explanations to go with them.
      Go and look it up.

      1. You are over simplifying this debate Bob. It’s a little bit of an insult to everyone’s intelligence and does not give the AGW theory any credence.

        CO2 is going up, temps have been going up (for about 140 years), ipso facto CO2 is causing it, and more CO2 will mean more warming. Too simple for what is involved. For starters the world has gone through warming periods of 140 years or more at least 4 times since the Bronze Age. But let’s steer the debate back to the post? The post is about Cancun.

        1. Your comment about previous warming of the planet since the Bronze age is blase as you know we have never had CO2 levels of 390 PPM before. Cancun is not about free loading greens, It is about many serious people seriously worried about what is happening to the climate and its effects on us all.

          1. You are sucking me into a debate I do not want to have. But your statement is so full of holes its irresistible. Please note I am not arguing against AGW, only against your flawed comments.

            “as you know we have never had CO2 levels of 390 PPM before”

            For starters, the majority of the history of the world carbon dioxide levels have been higher than that. Most of that period temperatures were quite a lot warmer than today. Some of that period they were however cooler.

            Secondly, what has that got to do with my comment? All I said is that we have had periods of warming in the past. So connecting current warming with rising levels of CO2 in itself does not prove any relationship.

            Please. It is obvious to anyone that:
            – CO2 levels have varied in the past
            – Temps have varied in the past
            – Current rises in CO2 are VERY LIKELY caused by human burning of fossil fuels

            The question is if this rise in CO2 levels is having a material impact on climate change. I do not want to discuss this question with you on this thread. To be honest I do not know the answer. I hope that is OK with you. Lets talk about the Cancun negotiations.

            1. R2D2, please think a few seconds before you post, you’re chasing strawmen.

              Bob’s talking about 3300BC to 1200BC, the bronze age, in this time frame CO2 levels certainly have not been at 390ppm.

              The last time CO2 was this high is at least 800.000 years ago, perhaps even 15 million years ago when no people walked the earth (not even our predecessors in Africa).

              Also, debates on blogs will always be oversimplified. The link between CO2 and temperature does not purely depend on correlation, you know that so why build that strawman?

        2. For starters the world has gone through warming periods of 140 years or more at least 4 times since the Bronze Age.

          So high climate sensitivity then?.

  6. as you know we have never had CO2 levels of 390 PPM before

    Bob, I assume you mean 390ppm has never occurred before in the time span of human evolution.

  7. Bob, it’s also about educating others, who are not so well informed. Your wording suggested 390ppm had never happened before. I just set the record straight, trying to pre-empt stupid “skeptic” comments. Too late, see R2 above.

  8. It seems as though economy is the central talking point on almost every climate summit when it comes to dealing with climate change. Focussing on economics with such a large group of countries who all want to have their economic stakes covered is never going to result in adequate action for which the summit is organised: climate change and it’s environmental effects. Climate change will impact ecosystems, the very ones supporting our dear lives, in the long term yet we fail to act because e.g. oil/gas, timber of aviation industry might suffer from the actions due to a short-term economic costs. It is ridiculous.

    But clearly, acting as a whole world together has long been proven to be nearly impossible. Might it be a solution for the countries that are positive towards addressing the problem to get together, make a deal and then shove it in the face of the unwilling and blackmail them (e.g. bad publicity, CO2 tax their export products) into compliance?

    Another pressure option is to create a hall of shame for those that block action and their reasons to do so. I mean public Name&Shame. Then concerned world citizens can decide if those should be re-elected or boycot their products. Perhaps such pressure will help soften the objections and distractions from the bigger problem.

  9. Cynicus is right about the economics being the main factor but its not the polluters who are going to change the outcome its the politicians who have to have the support of the people. We in new Zealand have 85% of our electricity from natural sources and we could easily move to 100%. Have the people the will to do it?
    Cancun is much the same but on a World scale. They are not going to sign a silver bullet agreement but each meeting gets us a bit further along the road to an understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

    1. I agree.

      And we should stress the other side of the same coin: We need to get off the Carbon fuel bandwagon while we still have a working high-tech civilization to do this major revamp of our energy industry not just because its wrecking our climate but simply also because we will run out of affordable carbon fuel supplies during the lifetime of many on this forum. And once the rug of cheap fossil fuels is pulled from under our feet it will be very difficult to do achieve much of anything other than to feed the hungry mouth of humanity and run the necessary services….
      Anybody ranting against a switch away from fossil fuels is a complete fool. The sooner we set targets to achieve this goal the better.

  10. Bob Bingham: Cancun “is about many serious people seriously worried about what is happening to the climate and its effects on us all.”

    Ooooh yes yes, very serious people seriously worried indeed (he says with great gravitas).

    LMAO!! That’s the best joke I’ve heard all year!

    Keep it up Bob. You’re great.

  11. How many tons of CO2 will be emitted when Quatar will host the Soccer world cup in air conditioned stadiums in several cities which will be erected in the honor of the black and white ball…..? How about FIFA and other similar organizations becoming modest citizens of the world, leading the way towards a leaner and more survivable future for us all…..???

  12. Modern civilisation is powered by copious quantities of energy which is largely coal and oil. What would have happened it coal and oil were not in the earth? Could we have developed to the same or near extent using other forms of energy? After all the greatest source of energy is in the sky and under our feet.

    1. I’m sure we would not have been able to devote so much energy to non-food activities, if not for abundant and cheap fossil fuels. The high EROEI of the fossil fuels allows a majority of (developed) humans to do things that have nothing to do with our prime needs.

      So, yes, we owe a lot to oil, coal and gas. But, and this is a big BUT!, we should use (or should have used) that energy surplus to to finance the shift to sustainable (i.e. renewable) energy sources to support our lives pursuing technology instead of the next meal. Instead the energy surplus has been used to finance a happy few, too elaborate social pension and medical schemes, many very expensive wars, etc.

      When human kind learned that fossil fuels would change climate considerably (and this was approximately somewhere in the 1980’s when the consensus established) the best moral decision would be to move to a trajectory that focused on harnessing the energy surplus to replacing fossil fuel with sustainable sources of energy.

      Perhaps. if you’re not concerned about climatechange, the clear fact that fossil fuels are not unlimited should also be enough to forcefully start moving towards sustainability as soon as possible instead of leaving that to the next generation.

      Either way, moving to a sustainable world is a moral obligation to the current generations: If you know that your actions have a negative impact then you’re morally obliged to react on that. Regarding resource management and climate change, humanity cannot, for a long time already, claim ignorance and mea culpa anymore.

      I worry that we have already passed the cheap, abundant fossil fuel era that would have eased the transition without much impact and enter a time in which everything is fighting for the available resources. That would probably severely affect any attempt at rational decision making focused at the long term by constantly focusing on short-term gains. In that context the rise of populist politics and governments all over the world is a real problem.

    2. Wind was being used for lighting in some farmhouses when I was a little tacker – and for lots of other stuff as well for a long time before. Was it yesterday I saw a photo of a large wind generator somewhere in the USA. My great regret is that the potential for wind was trampled in the rush to coal and oil.

      Even then, there were a few absolutely terrific patents early last century for fuel additives to improve consumption in ICEs. Once again, these initiatives were abandoned when petroleum products became so (artificially) cheap.

      I’m absolutely certain that we could have come up with a technologically advanced society using all available power resources – incuding a judicious dose of liquid fuels for particular purposes. As it is, we’ve just squandered them.

  13. Got any other suggestions then?

    Wind and solar are failing miserably around the world. You don’t want nuclear, coal, oil, and are not interested in any form of innovation.

    I guess it’s back to the cave then.

  14. In a previous life I used to sell wind turbines and there is one small item the manufacturers fail to explain. A big one is one megawatt, so on the face of it you need one thousand to replace Huntley coal power station. The problem is that the one megawatt rating is at a wind speed of twenty five miles per hour. Nearly a gale. In a good windy position you would need five thousand wind generators to replace Huntley.
    They are noisy as the wing tip travels faster than the speed of sound and makes a steady drone that can be heard miles away.

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