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The Party is Over: Copenhagen Devolves

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 11:33 PM GMT on December 17, 2009

The Party is Over: Copenhagen Devolves

First, I want to thank all for the emails and comments on my last blog. Here is the link to it “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”, and I have posted it at climatepolicy.org (Facilitating Disruption).

I am, officially, back from Copenhagen; a few of our delegation remain there. It was obvious Monday morning that the character of the meeting was changing. There were massive lines at registration. When I arrived at the Metro Station for the convention center, I exited into a small open area with people 10 deep on both sides of me. In one direction the people extended into the convention center, in the other direction people extended out of the Metro Station. Security told me that they were no longer allowing people into the center, but that was not true; it was just how they were dealing with the crowd at the subway station.

In a couple of hours, after getting some information from inside the center, I went to a nearby subway and walked to the Bella Center. Having already registered, I walked into security where there were very small lines. However, the newly arrived students who were waiting in the massive registration line, were to spend more than 10 hours there. On Monday, they never got to register, but through some luck I have yet to understand they managed to register and get into the meeting on Tuesday.

On Tuesday the meeting as a whole started to devolve. A little bit of detail. There are different types of credentials for the meeting. Our delegation has “observer” status, and we can get that being “a non-governmental organization” (NGO). There are credentials for press, which if I go again, I might try to get, and of course, United Nations employees, and a few other types. The NGOs are pretty low priority, and great in number, perhaps the proverbial unwashed masses. According to a news report I heard on the British Broadcasting Corporation, 45,000 people had been allowed to register. The Bella Center only holds 15,000. People come and people go, but as the second week started, it was obvious that more were coming than going.

This new flood of people was in addition to the beginning of arrival of top diplomats. Previously, the delegations had been dominated by career diplomats and professionals. When the various cabinet secretaries and prime ministers and presidents started to arrive, security increased, and so did the numbers from the press. So by Monday afternoon there were these small scrums of people moving around, with some celebrated figure in the middle of the scrum cell, and cameras and microphones hanging over it all. By mid-day Tuesday it was obvious that the overwhelming number of people, the newly arriving people, the increased security, the increasing protests – well, it was obvious that things would go downhill from the point of view of the NGO observer. Even those who had already registered were being denied entrance. I’m certain that this is the last Conference of Parties that will be handled quite like this.

In terms of disrupting the meeting, at some level security organized to keep the diplomats and the negotiating delegates in action. The impact of the over registration and the protests were, as best as I can tell, largely outside the meeting.

As I mentioned in my first blog from Copenhagen, the voices of those seeking climate justice were amongst the loudest. This, big picture, reflects the divide between rich and poor, which is one of the fundamental divides in addressing climate change. It is true that many of those who face the consequences of climate change are low, very low, emitters of carbon dioxide. Low emitters are generally not rich countries, and therefore, not well prepared to deal with, for example, sea level rising. These less wealthy nations are not only speaking for themselves, but they have picked up support from many NGOs in the developed nations. There have been large protests organized around these issues, and the first big protest was over the weekend.

The reporting of the weekend protest is interesting. One of the UoM Michigan delegates, Aubrey Parker, with a camera crew from Circle of Blue, marched with the protest and reported a far more peaceful event than appeared in the much of the reporting that I saw on the web and in videos. Here is Aubrey’s much more detailed Detroit Free Press blog, and link to her team’s videos. In general this protest was driven by those who think that governments are not doing enough on climate change, and demanding to do more. From the point of view of people at the meeting, there was far more talk and disruption by those who have accepted the scientific findings and don’t think enough is being done, than by those who do not accept the science and try to disrupt from that perspective.

More visceral, perhaps, are the protests of the credentialed NGOs who were denied entrance. For some groups, they felt that being at this conference, inside, observing getting to talk to people, that this was their only voice. The delegations from their countries are small and relatively weak. Therefore, their denial of entrance led to spontaneous protests. Again according to the BBC, there were some small groups burning their credentials, and some of the groups who got inside were staging their own protests. Here is a link Ben Robert’s interviews with protesters.

Inside, however, sat Prince Charles. I mention the Prince, as some of the people who came in the UoM delegation got to help the entourage that was coming to film an event where Prince Charles was presenting a set of environmental awards (The REDD Gala) )REDD=(Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation)). Senator John Kerry said hi to some of the U.S. students who had been denied entrance.

But all of the protestation and angst is still not the main core of the meeting. It amplifies, however, the words flowing around the world about whether of not the meeting will “end in failure.” Prior to meeting the expectations of “success” were getting low, and expectations were being managed. (Rood: WU Blog) People like me, expert in nothing and vain enough to write and talk about it, were saying that having an official commitment to some of the things that matter in the short term, valuation of efficiency, development of alternative energy, development of technology – having a commitment to accelerate these meaningful, required, sensible paths was crucial. I was concerned about becoming wrapped up in the exact size of the 2020 or 2050 reduction, because right now there IS NO EVIDENCE that we can achieve real sustainable reduction of emissions. I was concerned about getting hung up on the size of what rich nations would pay poor nations. (Rood: Pre-conference Interview)

The big issues of negotiation remain the same. The U.S. wants to be able to verify that China and India are meeting their voluntary reduction goals. Less wealthy nations are looking for money from more wealthy nations. In things that have changed in the last 20 years, China, China, China. And there is no evidence that the next 20 years will not feature more of China. China no longer asks for money. China can now provide money to other nations as a way to build influence, build alliance, and acquire resources. Also different than 20 years ago is the real expectation that something will happen. At this point for something real to happen, China and United States will have to come forward with a convincing break in their positions that will bring them more into alignment with the European Union. The U.S. has some, weak guidance from the Waxman-Markey Bill and various bills in the Senate. There is strong pressure not to repeat the story of the Kyoto Protocol where the agreed upon plan was dead on arrival in the Senate.

The meeting, therefore, is encouraging in the sense that there are people, companies, and countries who are trying to make progress on issues without regard to whether or not the big players have figured out how to play with each other. The meeting is disappointing to see this continuous push of fragmented self interests at all levels, and the seeming irreconcilable differences on who will pay what when, how to allow growth, jockeying to protect interests, total emissions and emission intensity (emission per capita). A reconciliation of big players is needed to match the top and the bottom, to define the regulatory and policy environment in which people will play, to motivate and accelerate the growth of good ideas and technology. I personally don’t see carbon emissions decreasing soon; coal is too easy to burn. (See Amrita’s Good Cop / Bad COP)

From the point of view of taking a student delegation, the meeting was nothing but successful. There are many excellent posts at the UoMichigan COP15 Blog website.


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