December 16, 2009
By David Simpson and Jane Lapiner
What is the Copenhagen Climate Conference Like?
Being at COP 15* in Copenhagen is an experience for which there is no adequate precedent, especially for a climate-change conference novice like myself. I admit that I have never before attended an event with 30,000 other people who were all talking about how to save the human species.
*officially, the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC )
COP 15 operates intellectually, as it must, on a grander scale than perhaps any human endeavor ever. The dimension of the physical operation alone inspires awe. The room, for instance, in which I sit preparing this report, the Media Center, is 375 feet long and 125 feet wide. Long tables fill the length of the room. On each table are rows of evenly-spaced laptop computers, almost 1000 of them, to be used exclusively for reporting about this conference. (The ratio of conference attendees to reporters or photographers approaches 10 to one, and it is an aberrant moment when at least one person within view is not being interviewed.).
Immediately outside this room, there are halls upon spacious halls where tens of thousands of people from almost every country in the world mill around engaged in earnest conversation Or they sit through long meetings in one or another of what seem to be endless side rooms of various dimensions, all working together on different pieces of the same puzzle and all in a single structure almost as broad as an Iowa farm. It is indeed humbling on all levels
Beyond humbling to the point of mild intimidation is the extremity of the reliance on absolute State-of-the-Art communications technology that COP 15 manifests. Starting with the high tech security and access scanning system, almost every function one must undertake is facilitated or otherwise handled by some state-of-the-art technology.
The very symbol of the conference, a globe of sorts more moonlike than of this earth but also like a roll of yarn or a baseball that has lost its cover, cross-hatched with lines running randomly in many direction that are not always geometrical but give the impression of being. It is other-worldy (or as an old friend used to say, “Off the Planet”) its lines mars-like canals, perhaps, a space-age abstract that would be entirely cold if it weren’t impressed softly on the page making the whole seem ethereal and delicate. It is a quietly captivating design but if one seeks for meaning in these things, one can’t ignore the implications of an earth overlain with circuitry and reduced to electronic vectors.
It fits well in the rarified medium of this climate controlled high-tech hall given over these two weeks to those who would save the world with blackberries and laptops and digital cameras all of which intersect and can be synchronized to give one at least the illusion of accomplishing the work of planetary survival.
Meanwhile, nearer to downtown Copenhagen, there is another event altogether that runs coterminous with COP 15. It is called Klimaforum and some refer to it as the Peoples’ Forum in a formula which implies that COP 15 is more corporate, cautious, business-driven which it no doubt has to be given its political environment and sources of support.
Klimaforum happens in an odd sprawling physical exercise facility called DGI Byen that has one of the world’s all time great swimming pools among other distinctions. (It is donut shaped. Swimmers stroke around a central, tiled island.) Clearly established as the purveyor of alternative perspectives, the Klimaforum seems to be motivated by the sense of urgency about climate change felt by environmentally oriented people who live, if not closer to the earth at least with less money, less insulation. More aware, perhaps, of the reality of our vulnerability.
Which is a good lead-in to the central issues at both COP 15 and the Klimaforum. These issues are best viewed as lumped into one or the other of two groups. The first has to do primarily with reductions of greenhouse gases (GHG’s)as committed by the developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol of l997.
The other group was set up as a second track in Bali in 2007. It deals with mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology in the developing countries. Adaptive measures to combat the earlier symptoms of climate change are emerging necessities, especially in the so-called global south and the island nations which are already being destabilized by the onset of climate change.
The overall perspective is reduction of GHG’s in time to circumvent the wort impacts of climate change while developing nations adapt and develop clean energy infrastructures that allow them to impoorve their quality of life. Both adaptation and clean energy infrastructure are going to cost a lot of money.
Where that will come from is one of the largest issues hanging over this conference. The developing nations, especially those in the global south, believe that the wealthier nations should not only reduce their emissions significantly but also pony up a significant share of the costs of adaptation since they are the architects, albeit unwitting, of much of what others are now suffering. They have, on their path to development, overloaded the atmosphere. This is referred to as “climate debt”. The developed nations don’t like the concept much– no surprise there—but understand there is some obligation. (Tonight there was a demonstration on the main hall at COP15 by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance who demanded that the developed countries take the steps necessary to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere to the point where temperature increases do not reach the level of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.)
Above all these harsh divergences and hurtful inequities, when you look more closely at the people themselves on the opening days of COP 15 and the Klimaforum something large and positive begins to take shape. Here are individuals from every far-flung corner of the world (193 countries) quietly at work, business-like and intent on solving this shared puzzle. Seeing all of these people gathered together working to assure our future, the future of our children and grandchildren is indeed impressive. The stages of disagreement, partisan divide and rancor at inequities still ahead on the path, the long hours of tedium wading through disagreements and divergent self-interests and subjectivities seemed like rocks in the path that could with effort be cleared. The big question is can it be done in time and is this awesomely complex mechanism capable of doing it.
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