The Storm before the Storm


Things are percolating here in Cancun. For the first few days it felt as if we were in the calm before the storm. But a comment here, a draft text released there and all of a sudden the rain began to flow (literally).

Inevitably, as the run-up to talks became the reality of talks, each minor development started to bounce around the echo chamber like pop-secret in a microwave. Governments began to preen and posture and NGO's plotted actions to show negotiators that their words, their choices have consequences in the real world. It's easy to get bogged down in the bubble that is the Cancun talks. But when you step back from the alphabet soup that drowns discussions in a sea of acronyms, how we deal with the climate's impact on real people is what the COP (irony intended) is all about.

The problem is clear. At stake here are the livelihoods of millions of poor people across the globe. People whose struggle to feed their families will only get worse as climate change rocks harvests from Minnesota to Yemen. If we don't act now, weather events once considered extreme will become extremely-common and our efforts to make a dent in global poverty will be subsumed in a flash.

Already we've seen how these growing disasters can be costly, both economically and socially. This year to date, more than 21,000 people have lost their lives due to weather-related disasters, more than twice the number in 2009. Those that lose out most are the people already most vulnerable to extreme poverty and hunger.

But even for those of us lucky enough to know where our next meal is coming from, climate change is more than a distant challenge. We have heard time and again the warnings of military leaders who tell us that climate change is a clear and present threat to global stability and US security. Whether it is floods in Pakistan, or droughts in Yemen, the challenges of extreme weather hit at the very core of American interests.

So while it's easy to get charged up by every inartful comment or poorly considered proposal, these blips cannot distract from the concrete actions and determined negotiations underway in conference rooms all around the complex. This round of negotiations, just 3 days old, is a challenge of political will and cooperative muscle. They won't be determined by comments made in press conferences, so no use in pretending otherwise.