Welcome to Hopenhagen! The slogan leaps off a thousand publicity boards across the city. It is being used to engender optimism among the conference participants, to highlight the achievements of the Danish Government and to sell Coke.
There it is again at the entry to the Bella Centre, where the UN climate change talks are being held. Once in, the halls and corridors spread out before you, with row upon row of exhibition stands representing causes, NGOs and governments.
Thankfully, I learned my lesson from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Jo’burg a few years back when I came away from a similar orgy of printed information with bulging bags full of resources, most of which have remained unread ever since. This time, more restrained, I gathered new reading materials that will take me as little as three weeks or so to get through.
A refreshing and unexpected aspect of the event is how many young people have managed to get accredited for the conference centre. The gangs of young folk from campaign organisations like 350 and Aavaz, discussing strategy and making banners, are the most colourful and encouraging thing happening in the place.
I attended two press conferences during the morning. In one, the 350 campaign had pulled together elders from many of the world’s main spiritual traditions in a moving plea for the world’s leaders to come to their senses. On December 11–13, tens of thousands of people of all faiths will join the World Wants a Real Deal weekend of action organized by 350, the World Council of Churches and the TckTckTck campaign. Wherever you are join them, or start a vigil yourself. With our political leaders apparently looking the other way, seeking to effect radical transformation in consciousness is one of the few tools left to us.
The other press conference was a WWF affair, a strong appeal to EU environment ministers meeting this weekend in advance of the critical last week of the Copenhagen conference. The language of the speakers was authoritative, firmly grounded in the science, yet somewhat desperate. It is clear that the 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 that the EU has committed itself to, (even the 30 per cent cut it is prepared to extend to if others take similar steps) is just not enough in the light of the latest science. Moreover, say the WWF speakers, the EU team has been busy with smoke and mirrors, disguising the fact that most of the cuts will be achieved not by changing behaviour or technology in Europe but by the purchase of offsets for activities elsewhere in the world.
There are more underhand goings on as news of a clandestine parallel negotiating process is leaked to the press. A small group of countries, including Denmark, the US and you guessed it, the good old UK, is revealed as having been working on an alternative draft text to the public one that the other delegations are discussing. The Danish Text, as it is being called, sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations, giving a more prominent role to the World Bank, and gives the richer nations long term rights to double the emissions rights of the poorer countries.
In truth, this cannot be described as such a huge surprise. Without the US, there can be no credible deal. And without the approval of Congress, Obama cannot sign any treaty into force. The hostility of a Congress elected on corporate funding to both the UN and sharp cuts in energy use are well known. The generous interpretation is that the diplomats were simply doing what needed to be done to keep all the main players in the game. Nonetheless, it is a huge and very public insult to the rest of the global community. Perhaps critically, it undermines confidence in the impartiality of the Danes who are hosting and chairing the event.
Towards the end of every day, a Fossil of the Day prize is awarded. Today, the not so lucky winners were Canada, for activities incompatible with responsible planet care. The wonderful Greenpeace photo exhibition I went to this evening included stark images from around the world, including devastation caused by the mining of tar sands in Canada, climate change impacts that are already being felt. The arts have incomparable power to bring home new and shocking insights.
10 December, 2009