I just learned that Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the green aliens are barred from the Bella Center. I understand for “security” purposes that they need to limit the number of people in the building, but this is getting a little ridiculous. I was already frustrated that NGOs were not allowed into certain meetings and were rather marginalized as one NGO group is allowed to speak on the floor for the entire NGO community. Yet singling out specific NGO groups is a bit much, especially since a group like FOE would be one of the few trying to push the politicians to effect real change. They were the group that decided to “go it alone” by calling out the Shell/Exxon negotiated US domestic climate change legislation. At the fringe of the NGO groups, FOE would hold the strongest position for achieving a meaningful climate change regime. And now, they are completely excluded.
This Monday afternoon I landed in Copenhagen, the last of the group to show up. I headed straight to the Bella Center conference center in a rush to get registered before they shut out NGO observers. My classmates and professors had warned me that something was up with admission. When I arrived by bus at the Bella Center entrance I met a large and agitated crowd. Asking around, I discovered that people had been standing there in the freezing temperatures since as early as 7am to no avail. I found a Politi officer to help clarify the situation for me but soon the crowd overpowered his voice. They shouted, “What do we want? ENTRANCE! When do we want it? NOW!”
Then over the megaphone came the demoralizing instructions that no one else would be let in that night so press should return tomorrow and NGOs should speak to their constituencies about getting in. “Shame! Shame!!” hollered the crowd. “Shame on the UN!” “28 hours’ flight! For what!?” “You lied to us!” “Shame!” The NGO representatives were furious. Some had spent a fortune on flights to Copenhagen based on what had seemed to be confirmed authorization for admission. I waited as the crowd dispersed wondering if I might catch my classmates and professors on their way out of the Bella Center. But soon the cold got to me and I returned to the hotel, intent on getting there in the morning before the rest of the crowd.
Somehow, by the very first bus of the day, I made it back to the gate at 5:45am and made my way into the front of the line. At 8:15 they began to let us weary unregistered NGO reps trickle in to register. I couldn’t believe my luck in getting in and obtaining that highly coveted badge that was my ticket to the event that had brought thousands from far and wide to Copenhagen.
Once inside the hustle and bustle consumed me. Some aspects of it were very similar to domestic conferences I had attended- booths with tri-fold poster boards and banners, smiling faces handing out buttons, and large hanging maps with red dots labeled “you are here.” But other parts were very different- delegation rooms set aside only for official state representatives, huge high-tech exhibitions explaining climate change problems and climate change solutions, and people from every nation speaking in every language, some dressed in distinctive local or traditional indigenous attire. The mix of rushing people and communication technology make the Bella Center simultaneously resemble an airport and a press conference. I have never in my life seen so many cameras, video cameras, large screen TVs, cell phones, smart phones, and laptops all in use in one place.
As I made my way through the Bella Center today attending a few panels, presentations, and a UN ceremony, I also witnessed demonstrations. One involved a group of young Americans dressed as oil executives and pretending to buy the votes of people walking by with fake money and absurd claims of “profits not people!” and “sham deal or no deal!” Another was a group of indigenous people from South America in traditional attire, playing traditional instruments, and marching through the Bella Center to bring attention to their plight. The glaciers in Peru are melting, resulting in wide spread drought. A third demonstration involved teenagers dressed as frogs demanding the world’s leaders stop stalling the negotiations and “Hop to it!” A fourth involved aliens in space suits with signs reading “take me to your Real leaders.” Though the fact that we are so close to the end of the conference with such limited progress so far is not a happy thought there is still a high level of excitement and optimism everywhere. This is the hardest and biggest problem people have ever tried to tackle and the thousands of people here seem to believe it can be done!
The two meetings I attended today were back to back, held in the U.S. center, and featured scientists and administration officials showcasing the best of American climate policy. The first panel was about the dangers climate change presents and has been presenting to our ocean ecosystems, and it was followed by a presentation on the new fuel efficiency standards. While the first panel convinced me that we will all die horribly when the oceans turn into acidic pools of death, the second panel gave me hope that we could turn around our emissions – so, while I learned more from Panel 1, I needed to stick around for Panel 2 to feel like humanity was salvagable.
The first panel was well-organized, and ran down a straightforward list of a) what we have seen happen with the oceans, b) the causes, and c) surprises – those things we did not predict would happen, but are. What we have seen includes depletion and disruption of ocean ecosystems, and a loss of resilience. The causes include overfishing, pollution, coastal development, and climate change (which exacerbates the other three). Surprises include changes in coastal upwelling dynamics, expansion of least-productive areas, and the biggie, ocean acidification. The speed and severity of the last surprise is what made me so pessimistic.
The second panel was also clear and concise. A tag team of an EPA representative and a Dept. of Transportation representative comprehensively covered the specifics of the new fuel standards that the Obama administration pushed through this year. I was impressed by the new cooperation between two departments who have been, if not enemies, then certainly not allies for years and years, but who were moved to work jointly on transportation emissions standards that should have the ultimate effect of removing emissions equivalent to 42 million cars from our cumulative transportation output during the life of the standards.
Apologies for the late entry, and for missing last Saturday (to be fair, the only Saturday meeting I attended was the plenary, and I’m sure the others summarized it better than I would). Now that the Conference is getting so crowded as to require rationing of entry passes, the only days I will be able to come will be Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost over; it feels like I just arrived yesterday. (Of course, the continued stalling on an agreement helps to create the impression that time is not passing.)
I attended two meetings on Monday. The first was a panel held by the collected organizations of the United Nations, and chaired by a representative from the Maldives. The speakers all had different spiels, but some of what they had to say was remarkably similar; everyone emphasized the need for good governance, knowledge and capital if a developing country is to successfully adapt to climate change. Adaption was the keyword, as the panel did not bother with mitigation strategies. The feeling may have been that developing nations are already having to adapt to climate change, and cannot do much to mitigate that which they are not, for the most part, causing. I felt bad for the chair, who did a great job, but who had to fit in several dozen speakers in an hour & a half time slot. After the first five speakers went and spoke for 5-minute stretches, the chair was forced to allocate everyone left one minute to speak, and then – I kid you not – “no time”. Every time he announced a new speaker with “no time” to speak, the audience got a good chuckle out of it. Unfortunately, the practical result was that everyone after the first five speakers had no time to say more than a soundbite.
The second meeting I attended was a presentation by approximately 10 representatives from the same number of NGOs based in Africa and Asia, who spoke about their community-based sustainability efforts. I was most struck by the NGOs who had a portfolio of efforts to speak about rather than just one method of uplifting communities. For example, Women Action For Development, based in India, proffered various solutions for alleviating the suffering that women in particular experience from climate change, that included 1) organic farming, 2) biogas composting, 3) using local seeds rather than hybrids, 4) improved cook stoves and clean cooking fuel to eliminate indoor pollution, 5) harvesting rainwater, and 6) educational promotion of nutrition and sanitation. Whew! With that amount of diversification, I can really believe in the success of the WAFD NGO.
The President of the UNFCCC meeting this morning reported that the COP remains suspended to work out whether there should be a contact group to talk about the different proposals on the table for the nature of the agreement (that is, whether it will be legally binding). Nonetheless, she said the Parties are showing flexibility and she is hopeful that they will make progress. In response, the delegate from Tuvalu made a powerful intervention. He noted that the entire population of his country lived less than two meters below sea level and is, therefore, gravely threatened by climate change. He said (I am paraphrasing): It appears that we are waiting for Senators in the US to conclude on the issue. Especially since having just received the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama needs to address the greatest threat in the world, which is climate change. Tuvalu is not the only country imperiled by international inaction, largely attributable to the US; all LDCs (Least Developing Countries) are enormously affected. He emphasized that a legally binding agreement must be the outcome of the Parties’ work in Copenhagen.
The Tuvalu delegate closed with emphatic emotion. Clearly, this is an incredibly important issue, far removed from any type of political stunt. The entire audience erupted in applause– a first for any COP meetings I have attended here.