The search for a middle ground in Cancun

by Lindsay Britton

Another student wrote about the irony of having the climate change negotiations in Cancun. There are at least six buildings at two separate sites for the conference. I have not been in all of the buildings, but the ones that I have been in are typically air conditioned to the point of discomfort. This notice was published several weeks ago:

In consultation with the Host Country and responding to numerous queries from participants, the Climate Change Secretariat would like to propose that the dress code for participants at the upcoming Conference be adapted to take into account the warm and humid conditions in Cancun. The temperature in Cancun ranges from 18C to 27C in December and humidity is over 85 percent.

The President designate, Her Excellency Ms. Patricia Espinosa and Ms. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, have exempted secretariat staff from wearing jackets and ties. The secretariat and President designate invite participants to follow suit. Male participants are invited to wear the traditional regional shirt from Southeastern Mexico called Guayabera. Guayaberas are easily available in Cancún. Ladies are invited to wear also traditional light cotton dresses.

The secretariat hopes that amending the dress code will allow participants to conduct discussions in a more comfortable environment, as well as limit the use of air conditioning and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Being rather unaccustomed to the warm weather of Cancun, I packed light dresses and skirts that I could wear to the conference. I packed only one sweatshirt in case the nights became cool while I was on my way back to the hostel. I was shocked by how cold the rooms were kept, especially because the limited use of air conditioning was explicitly mentioned in the dress code.

Executive Secretary Figueres commented at the beginning of her press conference on Friday, “I don’t know how you all live in this very cold room. … We may have to do something about the temperature.” The reporters in the room greeted this statement with applause.

It seems that at Saturday’s plenary, the person in charge of the thermostat decided that the appropriate thing to do was not to turn on the air conditioning. The room was very crowded and warm. Delegates fanned themselves with their thick packets of paper that are handed out every morning and took off the jackets that they had previously needed inside the plenaries.

Luckily, at Sunday’s plenary, a middle ground was reached. Although the room started off being very cold, perhaps a result of the lower than expected number of people present, it gradually warmed to a very comfortable temperature. Although the parties have yet to agree to much in their negotiations, the temperature inside the buildings has finally found a middle ground.

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