On opening morning of the United Nations climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, tour buses blasting air-conditioning crawl in traffic along the peninsula’s swanky hotel zone. The streets’ medians and shoulders are lined with state and municipal police cars, Chevy trucks and Dodge Chargers emblazoned with “Policía Federal.” Young men in Mexican army uniforms, perched in the beds of modified pickups, point machine guns toward the traffic; others watch from alongside the road, guns slung over their shoulders. A few stand with one knee cocked, eyes turned down to their cell phones.
Approaching the conference security checkpoint—where identification badges are scanned and bags screened before delegates, journalists and NGO representatives board a second bus for the actual conference site—the buses pass a McDonald’s. Two soldiers stand at the exit of the restaurant’s drive-through.
“Don’t take my sandwich,” a young journalist from South America quietly jokes from the back of the bus.
Like many aspects of the Cancún scene during the climate talks—from the luxury hotels perched on eroding beaches to the obfuscatory press briefings from the US special envoy for climate change, and the activists dressed as polar bears—the security feels like part of a show.
From Nov. 29-Dec. 10, representatives from more than 190 nations gathered in Mexico for the 16th annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The talks are called COP16 for short.
But while developing nations, particularly small island states, watch the rising seas erode their shores, the United States continues to thwart action on climate change. Worse, the US’ bad behavior is influencing other countries—such as Canada, Japan and Russia—to back away from commitments they made under the Kyoto Protocol.
Though global in reach, the climate change negotiations should be of particular interest to New Mexicans, according to Shrayas Jatkar, associate regional representative of the Sierra Club in Albuquerque.
“New Mexico and the US Southwest are experiencing the effects of climate change more than any other part of the US except for Alaska,” Jatkar says. “Our very ability to live here is threatened by a changing climate, which is making New Mexico a hotter and drier place to live.”
But more importantly, UN climate negotiators—especially those representing the US—should follow New Mexico’s example. Just as the UN talks moved into full force in Cancún, the state’s Environmental Improvement Board voted to approve a second greenhouse gas cap-and-trade proposal that had been debated over the summer.
“The two recent decisions by the state’s [Environmental Improvement Board] to limit global warming pollution demonstrate that there is the political will to not just address climate change,” Jatkar says, “but to follow the best science in dealing with it.”