Category Archives: Alice

A good overview…

It’s surreal to be at COP15 and searching for news online about what’s happening in the conference negotiations. Of course, there are a million things going on at once and you can’t follow everything, but at the same time negotiations could stop or there could be an amazing breakthrough and we might not find out for an hour or two at least. Craziness.

On that note, here’s a good overview of where things stand right now from the NY Times.


Fishy Business

Today the largest restaurant at the conference center is serving fish. Salmon, to be precise. The two restaurants that sell hot food at the center choose two or three dishes to serve each day and make A LOT of them over and over for hours (often even serving the same meal for lunch and dinner). Unfortunately, today’s special has created a wave of fishy stink that is wafting above the thousands of people rushing about the central building of the conference center. Luckily the stench doesn’t spread farther than the central dining and media area as I’m sure negotiatiors would not be happy if it felt like they were negotiationing for hours in a fish market!

Tutu + Robinson @ Copenhagen

Yes, the corner of College and Chapel may be called Bishop Tutu Corner. But I’ve just met the guy. He loves to laugh and has a great smile. When I told him that there was a street near my college named after him, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and Irish President Mary Robinson joked that it must be an alley.

Both are here for Oxfam international climate hearing at Copenhagen (“Oxfam organized hundreds of climate hearings. The COP hearing will be the culmination of this effort. The hearing will include climate witnesses from around the world and moral voices.”)

Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu Meeting

Taking pictures of a dignitary

Me, Robinson, Tutu, and two friendly people

Some notable quotes:

“We forget there is a great deal of good and you represent that. Fantastic human beings who care, who want to see our earth home, the only one we have, to be hospitable to all of its inhabitants. I want to clap you, because you are just fantastic human beings.”

“All have one super-goal. Persuading others to listen.”

“It’s the difference between survival and doom. We’re in this together. There are all kinds of competing voices. The 1.5 million people that have attended Climate Hearing in 36 countries, that’s not the whole story, they represent hundreds of millions more people who may not have attended a hearing but are suffering from climate change. The future is becoming a source of fear and uncertainty. People suffer with nothing to eat during the dry months and then lose everything when the rains fall with such ferocity that everything is washed away.

All of these changes, we know, are not just incidental. These stories testify to a disaster already in progress. But you know that we have it in our power.

Leaders from more than 60 countries are in Copenhagen today. We are here to tell the leaders of the world we have one Earth home, if it is destroyed there is nothing else. And we are in it together. We are going to swim or drown together. We are interconnected; we are bound together. If the one slips down, she or he brings down the whole lot. We are here to call for action.”

Negotiations opened up…but few left to attend

Every morning, after standing in long lines to enter the Bella conference center, we pick up a Daily Programme at the front information desk. The programme is a collection of the day’s events: the negotiations, the press briefings, and the public side events among other things. For each event the programme lists the times, the locations and most importantly who is allowed into each session.

Just this morning, when talking to a Yaw Law/F&ES student, Paul Beaton, we found out that more delegation and working group negotiations have been opened to public observers than ever before at COPs. Apparently, this is because during negotiations last week the US, EU and China tried to start closing off some of the talks (prohibiting entrance to all members of civil society) in order to bully the smaller states into certain agreements.

Undoubtedly, this is relatively common at international conferences and has happened at previous COPs, but this time the small states refused to be pushed around. The world’s smallest nations, including many developing countries, are more united than ever before. They are on a mission to achieve a fair agreement and are pulling the industrialized Annex I countries with them. So there was a revolt, the small states  refused to only negotiate behind closed doors. The UNFCCC responded hastily trying to ameliorate the situation by throwing open the doors to many of the negotiations, even ones that have never before admitted members of the public.

When I was leaving one of the Ad-hoc Working Group – Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) contact group negotiations last night I overheard one of the negotiators remarking with surprise that there were NGO members sitting in back half of the room (where I had been watching the discussion for nearly 4 hours by that point). “I had no idea NGOs were allowed in here,” she said.

It’s ironic, of course, that starting this morning only a third of the civil society will be admitted to attend these negotiations with fewer and fewer being submitted over the coming days. According to the Danish President of COP15 UN Summit, the primary reason for reducing the number of admitted people from the civil society is to accommodate the increasing size of country delegations.

“Security-wise things are getting very difficult,” Hedegaard explained. “It will be more difficult for press and NGOs to get in as we get closer to Friday. The heads of state bring very large delegations and that requires a lot of security.”

Ultimately the same number of people will be attending the conference, 20,000 total (which is the capacity of the conference center), there has simply been a cut back on civil society attendees and an increase in delegation attendees.

– Alice

The lucky few

As conference entry passes have been increasingly difficult to come by, our Yale contingent, like many other organizations, has decided on a rotation system. Four of the undergraduates, including Snigdha and myself, made it into the conference for all of today, while Chris is attending for the full day tomorrow instead.

It looks like an exciting day ahead with everything from Desmond Tutu to Al Gore and further access to agreement negotiations.

A float outside the conference center.

Protests and demonstrations positioned alongside the conference entrance line.

Just inside the front entrance.

P.S. UN text negotiations all use track changes!?

I forgot to mention that all of the negotiations are done using track changes and electronic comments. The negotiations take place in a long hall that has approximately 15 rows of long tables with individual microphones for hundreds of people and a large speaker system. Members of the UNFCCC secretariat sit at a raised desk at the front of the room in front of a large screen onto which the agreement text is projected. As delegates suggest changes to the text one of the representatives at the front literally adds comment bubbles and writes in track changes in different colors for the rest of the delegates to consider. It makes you wonder how negotiations worked before the advent of the track changes tool, but undoubtedly the discussions went even more slowly. Thank you technology!

Text Negotiations

Danish President and COP15 Summit Leader, Connie Hedegaard, finished the “Civil Society Briefing from the President” session by joking about the whole COP’s very frustrating stop-go-stop-go negotiations. “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” she admitted. “I hate COPs.” In the end, however, she was optimistic that the civil society (NGOs) has built up enough international pressure to push heads of states to act. She finished by saying that the outcome of the conference depends on the people. “It’s really about whether the citizens out there think the world’s leaders can deal with the global problems of the 21st century. Enough pressure has built up that I don’t think the world’s leaders will want to go home empty-handed,” she concluded.

I found Hedegaard’s discussion refreshingly blunt and impressively engaged with the concerns of NGOs and other members of the general public who were frustrated about being kicked out of the final days of the conference. The UNFCCC recently released reports limiting the number of members of the civil society allowed into the conference center even further – 1000 will be allowed in on Thursday and only 90 on Friday! More than 15,000 “members of the civil society” have traveled to Copenhagen so a lot of people are annoyed. It seems that Hedegaard gets just as frustrated about the COP bureaucracy, but ultimately believes enough in the importance of the acting on climate change. In the end her bluntness was entertaining, but was also somewhat depressing as it was a stark reminder of how easy it is to become disenchanted with international organizations.

After the briefing from the president we walked over to watch delegations from different countries try to draft the negotiate that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The text negotiations were a painstaking process. They took place in a large hall that was filled with of hundreds of delegates who went through the paragraphs of the proposed post-Kyoto agreement debating every single contentious word and line of text.

Even as an Environmental Policy major who knows that this is how the process works, it’s an unfathomable ordeal to watch live. Delegates sit for hours deliberating over minutia. For example, a Japanese delegate and an Australian representative debated for 10 minutes about the whether or not one word in a paragraph of text should be pluralized or not! But, of course, that’s how it’s always worked. Every word matters and everyone gets a say and so it takes a very long time, particularly when you’re trying to revitalize an international agreement to incite new action. Undoubtedly, the negotiations during the first week were more exciting when delegates were discussing the content of agreement. Unfortunately, when the second week rolls around negotiators have to focus on the more mundane nitty gritty details.

We’re looking forward to hopefully watching some bigger picture debates this evening starting at 8.30pm as the negotiations amongst ministers are reportedly up and running again.

– Alice