COP15 & Capacity Building

The UN Climate Change Conference is about figuring out how to mitigate and adapt to the threat of climate change worldwide. This is the 15th meeting of the UNFCCC conference of the parties (COP15), but never before have so many world leaders, NGOs, and members of the press and general public been in one place discussing the problem of climate change. The first COPs had no more than 5,000 attendees, yet over the two weeks of discussions at COP15 over 30,000 people have flooded into Copenhagen. And it’s quickly becoming clear that the UNFCCC just wasn’t ready.

Chris, Snigdha and I are currently sitting in a side event lecture on “Building capacity for effective public engagement in climate change governance”. One of the first questions that came up was the problem of the conference center capacity. Just yesterday the UNFCCC announced that some conference attendees are going to be turned away starting tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. The UNFCCC is setting a cap of 20,000 people in the COP15 Bella Conference center as heads of state start arriving and almost half of every organization attending the conference is being cut in half. The Yale contingent has been given 22 passes for over 50 people. In the registration line this morning we met a member of the U.S. Pew Research Center who said they have 4.5 passes for their group of 9. He joked that they need to find a midget to fill out their attending contingent (and Chris and I laughingly offered up Snigdha).

However, some people aren’t as jovial about the new restrictions. Some are frustrated that the UNFCCC didn’t enforce restrictions much earlier before people had flown to Denmark from all over the world. Others are arguing that while youth and general public engagement is crucial, the capacity problems are preventing some experts from attending the key final days of the conference by letting in some students instead of scientists from NGOs or private sector entrepreneurs.

This is one more example of the problem of capacity building. It’s ironic that we’re currently listening to a UNFCCC representative lecturing on the need for capacity building for increased public engagement in the political decision making process while the UNFCCC is turning people away because of a lack of capacity at the conference center.

The Yale group is working out a rotation system that will hopefully allow as many people to attend different conference events as possible, but of course it will still be frustrating to have our little time at this incredible conference whittled down further. On that note, we have to run to another packed event, “Leading in energy efficiency and renewables” with the Secretary of the US Department of Energy Steven Chu. Talk soon!

– Alice

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