It was stressed over and over again – the CoP 16 in Cancun was not only to keep the process of negotiations going, but for the environment. With the conference now over, and the resulting document addressing issues like financing, adaptation, and technology transfer, the question remains – what about the environment?
A closer look at the Cancun conference itself, one can easily deduce that the UNFCCC is dedicated to protecting the environment. The presence of recycling bins in all venues of the conference and the fact that all buses ran on bio-diesel are just two examples of how the Mexican Presidency had put a lot of effort into decreasing the carbon footprint of all participants. Even the big corporations seemed to want to show off their efforts, with Coca-Cola machines displaying a sign: “This machine is friendly to the environment”
And yet, somehow, it was not enough. The most well-known example is that of travel. The amount of CO2 released in order to transport everyone to the venue of the conference from their countries of origin is appalling when we consider that in today’s technologically advanced world, all negotiations and meeting can be conducted via video conference. An example was set by blogger Lara Smallman, who visited a hotel where a high-tech exposition was taking place, and who communicated with a journalist from CNN, who gave her live updates of what was happening in the main venue – the Moon Palace Hotel.
It is true that video-conferencing is not the same as meeting in person, and yet families who are divided by great distances manage to have video-calls every day. Politicians should be able to as well. All it takes is breaking the habit.
Another portrayal of this could be seen during the final plenary discussions on Friday, Dec. 10th, when lot of people filled the hall only to see and hear the parties express their final concerns. At the same time, journalists and NGO representatives sat outside (5m from the doors of the hall) and watched the plenary on live web-stream from public computers and TV-screens. In today’s high-tech society, physical presence does not have to be “physical”, but can also be achieved through “digital” presence.
Furthermore, the amount of paper used during the conference is unimaginable. As journalists sat in their press-centers and worked on articles and video-reportages, press officers would walk in and bring news of a newly scheduled press-conference by handing out flyers. Two minutes later, the same message would be received via e-mail and would be presented on TV-screens in the press room. The redundancy of using paper is evident. [N.B. Due to the large amount of paper I received at the conference, the weight of my bad increased by approximately 1kg].
But politicians and journalists are not the only ones to blame. The enormous presence of civil society organizations and NGOs also portrayed how used the world is to not thinking about paper. All booths at the Cancunmesse venue had flyers, posters, booklets, reports etc., in print. One could pick up enough materials to make all their relatives happy with calendars, posters, and key-chains. And all this for free! One can only wonder why, if a booklet or document exists on paper, it could not be sent via e-mail or accessed online; because it most certainly can.
As a journalist working for a web-based media, it makes me very angry to have seen the amount of waste produced at the conference. Everything, from the plastic cups handed out for free water (!), to the gala dinner organized by the Mexican Minister for Tourism (exclusively for journalists) should make everyone wonder. And if they begin to do so, they can find the solutions needed to stop this kind of waste of paper and food.
Yet, as people are set in their ways, it would be hard to change their views. But, there is hope. Most journalists have switched from paper notepads to laptop computers; from tape-recorders to digital equipment; from watching the plenary session in the main hall to doing so 5 meters away from its doors on a computer. Maybe this will be the beginning of a small, but significant revolution – a small change of habit with a significant impact on the environment.