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Environment

Factbox: Cancun's history gives mixed omens for climate talks

AGUA BENDITA, Mexico (Reuters) - Cancun can be translated from the original Mayan as “nest of snakes,” and climate change negotiators will be hoping the Caribbean resort does not live up to its name when almost 200 nations gather there next week for U.N.-sponsored talks.

Although millions of tourists give the southern Mexican town on the Yucatan Peninsula the thumbs-up every year, its history contains mixed signals on Cancun’s suitability as a venue for negotiators to achieve the breakthroughs they are hoping for on topics from greenhouse gases to deforestation.

- The Yucatan Peninsula was the site of possibly the most dramatic climate change in history when a massive asteroid crashed there 65 million years ago, triggering the worldwide environmental changes blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs.

- Climate change was also a factor in the collapse of the Mayan civilization, which once stretched from Yucatan to what is now Honduras. Scientists believe a series of extended droughts, possibly the result of draining wetlands and slash-and-burn farming methods, sparked civil unrest and wars and ultimately led to the collapse of Mayan cities.

- Cancun’s rise from sleepy fishing village to purpose-built mass tourism resort has sometimes come at the expense of the local environment. Causeways and marinas encroach on its lagoon, large parts were filled in to create tourist parks, mangrove forests were destroyed by dredging, and sewage and farm run-off, along with rising sea temperatures, are threatening the world’s second largest barrier reef.

- World Trade Organization talks in Cancun in 2003 aimed at reviving global trade talks collapsed after disputes between developed and developing world nations, leading to the establishment of the G20 negotiating block. The trade talks have since languished with no major advances. It’s precisely that kind of demise that climate negotiators want to avoid.

- Optimists may, however, be reassured by the knowledge that until the 1970s, Cancun was a string of sand dunes in the shape of the number seven. Seven is held to be a lucky number in many countries including Japan, with its seven lucky gods, and the United States, where seven is a key number in the dice game of craps. Unfortunately eight is considered lucky in other nations, including China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter.

Compiled by Krista Hughes and Kieran Murray

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