Not What I Expected: Reflections on COP16

Dear Friends,

It’s 2:10 am and I should be dead tired and crashing after another tiring, long day of COP 16, but something remarkable just happened and I’m wide awake and in awe of what I just witnessed. What just happened could just be that Bucky Fuller trimtab moment that all good RESULTS volunteers know about. Like the conversation, the relationship that shifted the way you saw something or the day that the world came together to focus on what needs to be done rather than continue to argue about what’s wrong with everything and everybody.


Recording the good news at COP 16

I knew something was up when the entire plenary jumped to their feet when Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Chair of COP16 walked to the dais to start the evening session. The delegates applauded for at least 3 minutes with cheering and total admiration for this woman. I thought this was typical for a U.N. process. Are they just thanking Mexico for being the host country? I thought to myself. Hardly. This woman seems to have totally turned the Climate Conference on its head with her lovely energy, her inclusiveness of making sure that all the voices are heard and imparting the sense of what’s important here is to set a framework that we can all get behind. The details can be worked out as part of the on going collaboration.

The session that I witnessed (really my first in all the 20 days of Copenhagen and Cancun that I’ve been at) was an informal session before the final plenary to agree (or not) on a Cancun Framework (or whatever they will choose to call it) that will be used in Durban, South Africa next December 2011 as the base for continuing negotiations towards a binding legal treaty on the keys areas of creating an array of climate solutions to the growing climate calamity.

Country after country (about 20, including China, the US, Australia, the EU, the African group, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, India and many more) piled praise on Senora Espinosa for her handling of the process, its’ inclusiveness and transparency. They ALL said the document isn’t perfect but that it was something they could live with as a framework to take the next steps forward. Only Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador called for more working group time to hammer out some of the details, and respecting their wishes, she granted the time urging quick resolutions so the COP could ratify the document.

I videoed every country’s statement that was in English and some were so moving (India, calling the process “in the presence of God, and in this case, a Goddess,” a scarfed woman from Kuwait, and a Bangladeshi gentleman who negotiated the very tricky financial agreement with his Australian counterpart) that the room burst into spontaneous cheers and applause. The space of partnership, lightness and workability was tangible. Perhaps the seriousness of a warming planet finally hit people that “we’ve got to get busy” but my hunch is that Senora Espinosa tapped into something that had been missing from the negotiations in Copenhagen and I dare say all COPs. This woman knows how to convene a group of disparate folks and does it with grace and ease and the response was overwhelming.

On my way home on my last COP bus ride from Cancun Messe to the Zona Hotelera I was sitting next to a French Canadian from Montreal who works with the Democratic Republic of Congo. I asked him, “what happened during the negotiations to make the crowd behave that way this evening?” He said that there was a period this afternoon when things just started to get lighter, people started working together and getting things done.

Sounds a little like “be the change you want to see in the world” to me. I remember back to my first email about being here in Cancun saying something like “expectations are low going into this conference and I’m looking for some unexpected outcome.”

Leadership shows up in the strangest places.

Paul Thompson


Paul Thompson is the Founder of Cool Planet and Volunteer Educator for Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota, a joint program of the Will Steger Foundation and the Alliance for Sustainability. Paul is participating in COP16 as a member of the 350 Solutions Revolution Team with accreditation sponsored by the Will Steger Foundation.


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