There were a range of factors that made COP16 different than its predecessor COP15. For one, it was held in a tropical paradise as opposed to a frozen northern metropolis. But more changed: the organization of the event, the layout of it, the expectation. For COP15 we talked to Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts to get his perspective on the arts and culture surrounding the talks. For COP16, he’s traveling with Inhabitat writer Moe Beitiks, who went ahead and picked his brain. Read on to learn about art, climate change, Conferences of Parties, and the very real role that logistics play in last year’s talks!

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INHABITAT: Many folks were disappointed by the outcome of COP15, yet as a cultural flashpoint it proved very powerful. What was your primary motivation for coming this year?

GARRETT: I wanted to follow up on the energy of COP15. There was a lot of buzz and momentum immediately following Copenhagen. There was talk of many artists trying to collaborate on a Cancun project, or coordinate together. So, I wanted to be here to see what resulted.

INHABITAT: What’s it been like so far? What’s your experience of the art and culture?

GARRETT: Well, the momentum slowed, I can tell you that much. Of the networks I’m a part of, it seems like a minimal presence is here in regards to the arts. Some of the more interesting guerrilla actions have been wrapped into the buffer zone of the Cancunmesse. Some more officially supported projects have been given short shrift in regards to accessibility. Also, the parallel conferences are much less convenient; that’s in general, not just comparatively. And, there really isn’t local cultural participation. But I’m not sure that was an option here, perhaps intentionally. I don’t ever know of any demonstrations in public. Sure, I could be missing them, but the activity outside of the conference itself is very slight.

ian garrett, cop16, cancun mexico, un climate change conference, sustainable design, green design, Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, eco art, environmental art

INHABITAT: In Copenhagen it seemed most of the artworks were occurring despite, not because of, the meetings at the Bella Center. You said: “These creative ventures, in talking about climate change, are reinforcing what people are feeling around town here and they have an increasing voice with the policy makers of the world.” How does that compare with Cancun?

GARRETT: You’re depressing me cause it just doesn’t. Outside of programmed cultural events that are related to the primary conference, there is very little, and what there is of it, like the Kilmaforum10 isn’t particularly well organized. Even that officially programed content is not particularly well organized unless it’s actually in the Cancunmesse.

INHABITAT: But Cancunmesse, as an official “side event” venue, is effectively housing Greenpeace, Fossil of the Day, and many other groups that felt they were excluded from previous talks. How has that affected the role of art?

GARRETT: I think it quelled it. I mean, it’s not really the sole thing of blame. Maybe part of it was about being more inclusive and bridging that divide which calmed the agitated down. Maybe the infrastructure isn’t here. There aren’t museums and galleries. This was the intention of moving the meeting from Mexico City right? To get it away from interfering with day-to-day life and to be less disruptive. Hopefully that means people are focusing on the talks. I haven’t been able to get that sense yet however.

ian garrett, cop16, cancun mexico, un climate change conference, sustainable design, green design, Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, eco art, environmental art

INHABITAT: How do you see the role of art in climate change as having changed in the last year?

GARRETT: How? I’m not sure. A lot has shifted. We’ve seen a number of resources go away. Various blogs are no longer updated, the RSA Arts and Ecology project is over. But Cape Farewell grows and Tipping Point seems to be going strong. Arcola is building a whole new space. New educational programs are solidifying like at University of New Mexico. So it’s definitely changing, but not in one way or another. I know, with the CSPA, it’s feeling a bit lonelier, but I don’t know yet if this is due to the mainstreaming of the arts in the sustainability discussion, or the refocus on the worldwide economy, or something else, or all of these things. Priorities have shifted, not necessarily away from art in climate change, but not towards it either.

INHABITAT: How has the organization of the conference in Cancun affected the culture of the conference, in your opinion? Last year you said: “We all pain to hurt the planet, but we’re coming here to save it. Hopefully we’re the medicine that makes you sicker before you get better.”

GARRETT: Ugh. I think Cancun, as a city, from what I’ve seen when I detach from the conferences, works pretty well. Many buses of different types, taxis for more direct transportation. It’s not the most pedestrian friendly, but it’s manageable. But the conferences are a different story. I understand the plenaries themselves deserve some separation, but everything else is so inaccessible. There are the limited shuttles to the Cancunmesse, access is controlled to most of the content associated by putting it behind the security of the Cancunmesse. And there is the Villa del Cambio Climático, but it’s in a really in-between space: not as far as the Cacunmesse, but not close enough in to be immediate without the use of a car, or a taxi, or a collectivo (if you’re lucky) to get there. Even worse is the Kilmaforum10, which is only accessible by either taxi or their poorly organized shuttle. The “peoples climate movement” is out in the woods away from the people! For everything, there are events and forums in other towns without real shuttle service and the listings on the websites are minimal and non-descriptive. Most things you only have a title to go on.

At the most basic level, this conference is a bit of a farce, since the infrastructure to support it is perhaps the opposite of what you’d think would be an intentional sustainability! Putting it in Cancun was one thing — a coral reef and tropical wetland turned into a resort town is bad enough. But, then making it not work with the city and engage it as a community, even given that security will be second only to the TSA, makes it that much worse. They could have just skyped everyone in — everyone who doesn’t need to be in the plenaries watches from a screen anyway.

INHABITAT: Any other thoughts?

GARRETT: Well I’m looking forward to seeing what the talks actually come to this year. Not that I wasn’t last year, but it’s what I’ve got to look forward to instead of the reification of a movement or the coalescence of a worldwide desire, it is just about the talk this year. So I hope those go well (yes, I know there is a lot of talk of them not doing much). And I look forward to Durban, a place I’m completely unfamiliar with. Bringing the next two COPs to Africa and Asia — essentially engaging the developing world more directly — is exciting as well.

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