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10 Key Players Worth Watching at COP16

Every COP gives us a chance to recognize key figures in the climate change debate.

The Cancun summit is no different, but many of the key players have changed since Copenhagen, with a stronger representation from emerging markets.

Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Mexico's Foreign Affairs secretary and president of COP16, is the central figure. While hosting delegates during the first week, she led them to the beach to present them with a water turtle nest and suggested that the negotiations are like a water turtle -- long living and slow moving! She has given a very positive image of Mexican hospitality and involvement.

Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC executive secretary, is the chief negotiator. She labels herself the 'shortest' negotiator and is clearly determined to balance expectations. Her view is transparent: While there’s not much to expect from the Kyoto track, there is slow progress on the Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) track, with concrete steps possible on peaking, mitigation and finance.

She reaches out to the business community, regularly reminding them of their responsibility around three priorities: addressing their entire value chain, working on sectoral approaches, and positively influencing political constituencies 'at home.' She has taken over from Ivo de Boer, who has now transferred to the business side and is also very present in Cancun.

President Felipe Calderón, the Mexican president, has been very active in the run-up to and during COP 16. He inaugurated the Mexican dialogues to accelerate cooperation across parties and has demonstrated his country's commitment to climate change, well-relayed for example by the mayor of Mexico City.

José María Figueres, chairman of the Carbon War Room, the Richard Branson initiative to promote sustainable entrepreneurship sector by sector. The former Costa Rican President introduced a carbon tax in 1995 and is perhaps the most charismatic figure of climate change. He also coined the phrase, "There is no Planet B."

Lord Nicholas Stern (pictured above)is the chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute, the inventor of the '6th industrial revolution' concept, and a constant climate change advocate since his landmark report in 2006. He is progressively changing tack from the catastrophist approach and has initiated the opportunity-based approach that is dominant for this year, labeled Green Growth.

Ted Turner is the billionaire and philanthropist, critic of the UN Foundation and founder of TBS and CNN. Turner seems to be a rare southern U.S. voice from business advocating climate change action. Not altogether happy with CNN’s coverage of the topic, he now funds his own media impact as a quasi-newcomer on the COP scene.

Lorenzo Zambrano, CEO of Cemex, was a key figure at the Business Day organized by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Cemex is the largest Mexican multinational and a global leader in the cement industry, one of the largest emitting sectors but one which is also very committed to sustainability. 

Copenhagen remains a point of reference, albeit usually negative. But Copenhagen is an acclaimed example of an intelligent city, ranked No. 1 on the Siemens Smart City Index.

Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate change, was head negotiator in Copenhagen. In charge of defining the E.U. position around climate change, she is arguably in a more comfortable position this year as Europe considers itself to be more ambitious than most. She will defend the E.U. Emissions Trading Scheme, and is caught in the debate over Europe’s choice of 30 percent versus 20 percent emissions reduction targets.

Muhtar Kent of The Coca-Cola Company and Lars Olofsson of Carrefour are co-chairs of the Consumer Goods Forum, a group of 450 manufacturers and retailers representing some $3 trillion in revenue. The forum announced on the first day of COP16 a series of resolutions to work toward zero net deforestation by 2020 in procurement of palm oil, soy, beef, and paper products, as well as the beginning of a phase-out of hydro-fluorocarbons in refrigeration by 2015.

Of course there are other actors and developments that are also getting attention at COP16: China’s 12th five-year plan, which has energy efficiency commitments that are being  highly commented on in Cancun; Mary Robinson, the former Irish president whose intent in Cancun is to connect human rights and environmental issues; Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Carbon War Room; ProMexico, the government institution representing Mexican business;  Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco and Paul Polman of Unilever, who lead the Consumer Forum’s sustainability program; and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which has been in the news throughout the year for better and for worse.

Main image by Neil Palmer, CC licensed by CIAT - International Center for Tropical Agricultu.

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