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10/10/10: 7,000 Events Planned in 188 Countries

by Marcela Valente
BUENOS AIRES -- NGOs and ordinary citizens around the world plan to help raise awareness on the problems caused by climate change and urge governments to adopt policies to combat the phenomenon, with more than 7,000 activities in 188 countries on Sunday.

The international grassroots climate campaign 350.org invited civil society across the planet to register events on its web site for "A Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions".

Last year, over 5,200 actions were organized in 181 countries, on Oct. 24.

"We're getting to work -- what about you?" is this year's message to the political leaders who will meet Nov. 29 to Dec. 10 at the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico.

"We want to mobilize people and empower local actions by each community to show the governments that society wants change, and we chose an easily remembered date: 10/10/10," Kelly Blynn, 350.org Latin America coordinator, told IPS from Mexico.

Hundreds of events are planned for Latin America, ranging from tree-planting, the installation of solar panels and bike rides, to "cloud harvesting," a climate change adaptation technique also known as "fog catching," for obtaining water in dry zones.

In Buenos Aires, people have been invited to gather at the obelisk, one of the city's best-known landmarks, in the center of the capital, wearing green t-shirts. A protest is also being organized against plans for a coal-fired power plant in southern Argentina.

In Brazil there will also be bike rides, walks, tree-planting and street-cleaning activities, as well as concerts, parachute jumps, and a broad range of other activities in cities around the country.

The campaign 350.org is named for the 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that scientists regard as the maximum safe concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere compatible with life on the planet.

Until about 200 years ago, the atmosphere contained 275 ppm of carbon dioxide, scientists report. But with the development of industry and the growth of cities, transportation and intensive agriculture, emissions have climbed to 387 ppm today.

Global warming is causing accelerated melting of glaciers, higher sea levels, and more frequent and more intense extreme weather events like hurricanes, torrential rains and prolonged droughts.

In Venezuela, Latin America's biggest producer of oil and natural gas -- the burning of which is the main cause of climate change -- both the authorities and society at large are becoming increasingly aware of the problem, as a result of recent impacts.

The severe drought that affected the country in late 2009 and early 2010 forced the government to implement water and electricity rationing measures. But after August, unusually heavy rains caused landslides.

"In the Venezuelan government, there is awareness of the need to fight climate change, but the fact that this is a country that depends on the production of hydrocarbons weighs heavily," Yazenia Frontado, with the Venezuelan environmental organization Vitalis, told IPS.

Vitalis is coordinating the 350.org campaign actions scheduled for Sunday in Venezuela, where "understanding of the effects of climate change on everyone's lives has grown in the public sector, and in society," the activist said.

In Mexico, the region's other huge oil producer, more than 170 events are registered for the "Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions", including a gathering in the Chapultepec forest, the "green lung" of the western part of the capital.

The leftwing government of Mexico City will join the campaign with the official announcement that day of the goal to reduce the capital's CO2 emissions 10 percent next year, through different measures.

"The important thing is to plan tangible commitments," Marcelo Quintanilla, director of 350.org in Mexico, told IPS. "We need commitments that can be assumed not only by governments but also by business, town halls, and citizens."

Recent floods in the northeastern state of Nuevo León and the southeastern states of Tabasco and Veracruz highlighted Mexico's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

"The situation is serious, and we have to take on a greater leadership role," said Quintanilla, whose country will host COP16.

Blynn commented that since the last climate change conference, which was held in December in Copenhagen and failed to reach any meaningful agreement, "The environmental movement has lost faith in political change."

Nevertheless, she said it was necessary to show that change is possible and that civil society and some governments are willing and prepared to take action, even if it is merely symbolic.

To illustrate, she cited two examples: The president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, helped install solar panels this week on the roof of the presidential residence in the capital of his country, which is one of the small island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels.

And U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would line the roof of the White House with photo voltaic cells and install a solar-powered water heater, to provide clean energy for the government of his country, which along with China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

With reporting by Emilio Godoy in Mexico City and Humberto Márquez in Caracas.

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