"Jein" is the word that Christiana Figueres, the United Nations Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, used to describe climate change negotiations in Cancun yesterday. It is a German word that defines both yes and no. Yes. The world has acknowledged the need for the creation of immediate policies to slow the impact of global climate change. No, the world has not figured out how to create these policies.
Cultures from the hottest parts of the world and the coldest parts of the world have come together in desperation to reiterate that these policies need to move forward as fast as possible. When the ice in the Arctic melts, it raises the sea to a level that could wipe out the oldest islands on the planet, a group of tropical islands called the Seychelles.
"If the ice goes, we go," explained Ronny Jumeau, UN ambassador of Seychelles.
The people of Seychelles are not yet swimming. But they are one of many cultures near the Equator that is facing environmental extremes from the temperature rise caused by global climate change. Jumeau said that many of their islands only receive 10 percent of their annual rain. Agriculture is failing. Their people are often thirsty and hungry. Currently the country has less than 20 days of drinking water.
Another climate change story was shared by Patricia Cochran, a committee member of the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change. She discussed the problems of her homeland, what used to be a frozen tundra. The location of villages throughout Canada into the Arctic causes the indigenous people to be dependent on the environment to provide their food sources. Limited shipping makes imported food rare and expensive.
"When we open our front door, those are our supermarkets," she said.
However, now some of their primary food sources such as fish, seal and moose have become more scarce and contaminated. PCB levels in fish have increased while seals and moose face extinction from losing habitat and increased temperatures.
Margreet Wewerinke, representative of the Human Rights and Climate Change Working Group said that the degree to which climate change impacts these cultures is a direct violation of human rights. "All people should have rights to safe food to eat," she said.
However imminent a global climate treaty seems, Jonathan Pershing, senior climate negotiator for the United States, said in an NGO briefing that it is difficult to prioritize which countries are suffering the most and require the most aid. This is one of the many complications that is slowing down the process of creating a global climate policy.
Christiana also said that it's unlikely the negotiations in Cancun will complete a legally binding and working global climate document. However, diplomats are working to agree on a policy foundation. This foundation is the decision to draft a policy that will hold one of the following characteristics:
1) A policy that will be legally binding.
2) A policy where greenhouse gas emissions are completely transparent.
3) A policy created like a piece of Swiss cheese. This is a document where holes are deliberately placed within, to allow the country flexibility and creativity in decreasing emissions.
"Climate change did not occur overnight, and it will not be solved overnight," Figueres said. "We need to first establish the base of the skyscraper before we can build up."