Two devotees from ISKCON Hungary’s non-profit Eco-Valley Foundation (EVF) attended the COP16 Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico from November 29th to December 10th this winter.
The United Nations invited EVF—which helps people to start and maintain sustainable communities similar to ISKCON Hungary’s highly successful Krishna Valley—to attend as an observer organization.
The Eco Valley Foundation chose secretary György Kirs, who has a degree in communications and foreign affairs, and strategy director Vadim Sviridovich, who holds two Bachelor’s Degrees in law and economics, to represent it at the event.
“The events of the Climate Summit, which is organized by the UNFCCC—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—took place in four locations,” György says. “The Moon Palace Hotel Complex, which is about sixty kilometers from Cancun City, was the official venue of the conference, where various government members, delegates and representatives attended plenary meetings and related subsidiary activities.”
The second location, eight kilometers away from the first and easily accessible by shuttle bus, was the large conference hall Cancunmesse. There, a variety of lectures and presentations were given, while exhibitions were shown by predominantly non-governmental organizations.
The third venue, “Climate Change Village,” involved mainly Mexican participants, and featured exhibitions of many different products and technologies connected to the environment and environmental protection, such as electric cars and one hundred per cent biodegradeable plastic bottles which simply vanish into the soil. There were also exhibitions on Mexico and Mexican culture, and concerts featuring mainly Mexican performers.
“The fourth venue was a side event not officially supported by the UNFCC, called ‘The Climate Forum,’ and featured mostly non-governmental exhibitions and presentations,” says György. “This was the only one we did not visit, because of its distance from the main venues, and a lack of direct shuttle buses for commuting.”
The official Climate Summit talks were held at the Moon Palace Hotel from 10am until 6pm every day. All 193 of UNFCCC’s member countries, or parties—“COP” stands for “Conference of the Parties”—were represented by Heads of State or delegates.
“They all discussed different proposals and ideas regarding mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental concerns,” says György.
“Specifically, the main focus of this year’s meetings was how to renew the Kyoto Protocol, which came into effect in 1997, establishing legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It is effective only until 2012, so renewing it is of major importance, for if it is not, countries will have free reign on greenhouse gas emissions which could have disastrous consequences for the environment.”
No major decisions were made at this year’s meetings, since they were only a step towards making a final agreement between all the member countries on levels of CO2 they are allowed to release. Smaller meetings will continue on throughout the next two years, with the larger annual summit meetings, known as COP17 and COP18, to be held in winters 2011 and 2012.
One of the results that did come out of this year’s summit was an agreement, not a binding treaty, which aims to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. It also calls on rich countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as pledged in the Copenhagen Accord, and for developing countries to plan to reduce their emissions.
“The agreement also includes a "Green Climate" fund, proposed to be worth $100 billion a year by 2020, to help poorer countries finance emission reductions and develop green technologies,” says Vadim Sviridovich.
There was not, however, any agreement on how to extend the Kyoto Protocol, or how the $100 billion a year for the Green Climate Fund will be raised; neither whether developing countries should have binding emissions reductions or whether rich countries would have to reduce emissions first.
Opening the second week of plenary sessions, head of UN Climate Change Affairs Christiana Figueres stressed that quick action was needed to prevent the imminent threat of climate change.
Many Heads of State whose countries were most affected by climate change spoke, including Indonesian Islands president Susilo Yudhoyono, Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, and Gautemalan president Alvaro Colom.
In his speech, Colom said that God allowed people to forget and forgive each other, but did not allow the same laws regarding nature. Colom specifically opined that the devastating rains and floods that claimed the lives of 150 of his countrymen this year were attributable to catastrophic climate change.
Although many are skeptical that climate change contributes to or even causes such disasters, climate change and its effects were taken as fact at COP16. At the US Center pavilion at the Cancunmessa venue, for instance, György and Vadim noted with interest the 2009 State of the Climate report, based on the findings of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
“The report draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable,” explains NOAA’s official website. “More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.
“Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes. The relative movement of each of these indicators proves consistent with a warming world. Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.”
There is much debate as to what is really causing all these problems—some scientists say that it’s caused by human activities such as CO2 emissions, while others say that it is a natural phenomenon caused by the activities of the sun.
“Either way, though, it is unavoidable that there are people who have already been affected by this—who have lost their families or homes due to catastrophes caused by climate change,” says György. “And my opinion is that whatever the main factor is, there is also for sure some element of a human factor. And if we can do something to decrease the speed of this climate change, or even stop it, then we should.”
For their part, György and Vadim’s main goal at the Climate Summit was to make connections with organizations that could collaborate with them on the Eco Valley Foundation’s work in helping people to start sustainable communities.
“We met representatives of TERI, (The Energy and Resources Institute), a scientific institute based in Delhi, India, whom we have developed a partnership with,” György says. “We also met some representatives of Yale University in the U.S., who were interested in our efforts to propagate sustainable living. They said that their University has different branches of environmental protection and sustainability, and that students and professors may be interested in getting in contact with us.”
György and Vadim also met the Hungarian governmental delegation at COP16 and invited them to visit Krishna Valley. “They were very open and friendly with us, and some agreed to visit, which is of course a very positive development for us,” György says.
Since the Eco Valley Foundation was attending as an observer organization, György and Vadim did not make any speeches or presentations at the Climate Summit, but they did make a presentation on the Eco Valley Foundation and Krishna Valley at a congregational meeting of Mexican devotees in Cancun. They also visited a family-operated farm outside the city to advise them on methods used at Krishna Valley. At the Conference itself, they distribute specially prepared leaflets about Krishna Valley.
“Attending this year’s event will allow us to have an increased presence at next winter’s COP17 in Durban, South Africa,” says György. “We hope to make presentations at several side events, and to have an exhibition booth where we can present our activities to the world. We would also like to organize group discussions with different religious or non-religious leaders, which we hope our Hungarian GBC Sivarama Swami will participate in.”
In addition, they intend to create and distribute a sustainable community “instruction manual” about how people can establish an eco-friendly community based on the Krishna Valley model in their own country.
“Our model can show to the world how to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions,” says Vadim. “If even one family reduces their emissions, it will make a difference. To give an example of how effective our model is, the amount of land an average U.S. citizen uses for sustenance—their ecological footprint—is about 10 hectares. The average resident of Krishna Valley used about 2 hectares—five times less. So we hope that we can teach others to implement our way of life, and thereby reduce humanity’s negative impact on Mother Earth.”
To find out more about the Eco Valley Foundation and Krishna Valley, please visit http://ecovalley.hu.