In Cancun On A Mission of Urgency

Earthjustice attorneys blog from world climate conference

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(Editor’s Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging from the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. This is their first dispatch.)

It is with some urgency that my colleague Erika Rosenthal and I have come to Cancún to participate in the U.N. climate negotiations.

For the next two weeks, we will work with thousands of diplomats, scientists, activists and others to try to make progress toward an agreement to set the planet on a different path.

We’ll draft proposals and counter-proposals in the strange lingo of climate change negotiations ("Should the UNFCCC’s COP require the US to MRV its LULUCF commitments?"). We’ll discuss the special concerns of countries as different as Norway and Zimbabwe. We’ll strategize and re-strategize to address daily (or hourly) diplomatic changes. And we’ll work with other nongovernmental organizations to bridge differences and develop solutions.

As if it weren’t clear enough, the past year has shown that serious climate change is already upon us, and it’s not pretty.

Science shows that climate change was a "major contributing factor" to a series of disasters in the summer of 2010. Record rainfall, flooding and mudslides killed over a thousand people in China and displaced up to 20 million in Pakistan. Russia experienced drought-induced wildfires and the loss of a fifth of its wheat crop. And a nearly 100-square-mile chunk of ice broke off of a Greenland glacier.

Of course the impacts have not been limited to foreign people and places. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the period of January to July this year was the warmest first half-year ever recorded.  While drought-induced wildfires have raged with unprecedented intensity in the West, high tides are encroaching into the East Coast suburbs .

Yet, despite the clear and growing evidence that climate change is affecting the United States, the U.S. Congress failed to pass legislation limiting emissions of the pollution that causes global warming.

Through it all, we are motivated by sentiments like those expressed today by Antonio Lima, a diplomat from Cape Verde, an island off the west coast of Africa. Speaking of the many low-lying island nations threatened by sea-level rise, he said,  "We are facing at this moment the end of history for some of us. All of these countries are struggling to survive. I have mountains in my country. I can climb. They cannot climb. … We don’t want to be the sacrificed countries of the 21st century."

From 1996-2024, Martin Wagner led the International program, specializing in taking corporations to court for practices that violate international human rights.