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Each panel is free-standing, with images on either side, and text in English, Spanish and French. They’re arranged in a semi-circle around a central square downtown. Rather than disrupting the space, they act as dual-purpose fencing. Between the circus performers and the live band. Between the kiddie cars and the souvenir stands. Framed in dark black, the panels document loss of permafrost in the mountains of Altai, coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, and hurricane threats in Cancun, among other steadily-eroded places. UNESCO touts the use of satellite imagery as a way of documenting World Heritage Sites, a major focus of the organization. Now it seems the World has become a . . . World Heritage Site. In the middle of cotton candy and toy cars.

Cancun is full of cultural contradictions. The major climate change conference that it is hosting is way outside of town, causing, ironically, giant traffic jams. Central Cancun, with its narrow streets and crumbling sidewalks, is a stark contrast to the polished Hotel Zone, which has itself undergone extensive beach restoration following the hurricane damage documented by the photos. It’s fascinating to watch people look up from their cell phones at the changes happening on our planet. Maybe soon this kind of contrast will be less jarring.

+ COP16 Coverage

Moe Beitiks will be in Cancun following COP16 as a Digital Media Partner until December 5th. Follow her with us or on twitter.

Images © UNESCO