COP15 draws to a close
The world is hours away from hearing the roaring rage of a disappointed and frustrated crowd of policy makers, NGOs, industry leaders and civil society, all of which have spent hours standing together in the excruciatingly long queues for the Bella Centre, joined in their outcry by numerous demonstrators. Or, we shall hear “hurrays” as world leaders sign a progressive agreement to tackle the looming challenge of climate change.
The next few hours will decide which way the tide goes, as Copenhagen prepares to see either the despair on thousands of people’s down-turned faces, sadness in their closed eyes, or the rage of up-turned screaming faces, as hopes are shattered, expectations smashed, and desperation takes over as it always does in such moments where wasted hours reel around in everyone’s head.
Would it not be wonderful to still hold that glimpse of hope for a legally binding agreement of emission cuts and technology transfers to the poorer nations of our shared planet through a structured and functioning financing mechanism? And as it says on the UNFCCC website, “Time to act in Copenhagen, 0 days, 00 hours, 00 minutes, 00 seconds”, it could almost say “The time has gone” and what have we achieved? In a few hours, we will all know what a “robust political agreement” looks like, or else “what a disgrace to the world indeed”, as the Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, said on Friday afternoon in Copenhagen.
In the meantime, let us go back to some fresh memories from this EU Climate Summit, to that feeling of hope felt by engaged stakeholders as they got off the plane in Copenhagen Lufthavn in the early days of the summit. I remember coming out of the clouds and seeing the changing patterns of turquoise of the shallow sea as the soft, mossy land closed in on the landing aircraft. I remember going into the Bella Centre for the first time and thinking how well organised the whole event was. This feeling was not to last, as we entered into the second week of the negotiations.
Once inside, NGO and industry booths were set up as far as the eye could see, and people were busily scuttling around the conference halls, either with yellow NGO badges or pink Party badges, the latter having pretty much exclusive access to the negotiations, while the others did their best to find out through some channel or another.
In fact, the COP15 is as much an NGO fair as the place for negotiations to take place. One must hope that the two events do influence each other. I remember the buzz of being together with all these motivated people, expressing their energy through a variety of different varies, Bingo Meetings in the morning, Fossil of the Day awards at 6pm every evening, electing one nation in the world as dragging its feet in the negotiations, based on the opinion of hundreds of NGO activists at the summit.
In addition to these activities, numerous side events took place on issues from the melting of glaciers, to human rights and human migration as a result of climate change impacts on human settlements, from energy technologies to reduce fossil fuel usage, to forests and land use change passing via post 2012 flexibility mechanisms. As it is impossible to be in two different places at the same time, one had to check the daily timetables and see what was going on and what made most sense to attend, picking up leaflets for other events which were lying around on tables inside rooms named after famous Danish figures, where people gathered, sometimes by the hundreds and where the air was hard to breathe.
Standing at our booth, in the renewable energy area and ironically next to the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSa), I had some very inspiring meetings with a range of interested and inspired people; from African party members with on-going renewable energy projects in their country to master students with a vision of renewable energy in the future and of feed-in tariff systems for developing countries, passing through consultants, industry experts and journalists. Perhaps the most inspiring element in the COP15 conference for me was the people.
Let me go into that with a couple of more personal examples. Leaving the conference one evening, I found myself on the train with some German demonstrators from Climate Justice Now! a network of organisations and movements from across the globe committed to the fight for social, ecological and gender justice. The train was overcrowded and I wanted to sit down. The three women on the benches next to where I was standing had a couple of banners, one which was blocking a seat, I asked if I could sit down and she said only if I was from outside the Bella Centre. I said that actually I was in, but we had a good conversation for the next 20 minutes and realised that we were fighting for the same cause, just from the other side of the fence so to say.
I also remember speaking with the manager in our hotel, in Jægersborg, the Schaeffergården Hotel, who was saying that she lived near a forest with 3 other houses around and that she would very much like to have her own, or possibly a shared, wind turbine which she would look at from her house. She explained how the Danish people were very open to embracing new technologies which would mitigate the on-coming difficulties presented by Climate Change. She also explained that many people in Denmark own their own wind turbine and they receive technical guidelines when the wind turbine is set up so that they can adjust the speed of the blades and also turn it off if they find they are producing too much electricity. This responsibilisation of the individual and/or of a community is to my mind a strong argument in favour of renewable energy technologies as they empower local actors to make a difference and control their energy demand, thus positively contributing to the climate and energy challenge.
Another positive encounter with a Dane was in a less formal environment, a friendly jazz shop and bar on the long road down to the harbour, Gothersgade. This sturdy, bearded man with a glitter of blue fire in his eye not only introduced me to new musical horizons and advised me on a good book on the ECM label with an early reputation with standard-setting jazz recordings by Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and others, he went on to tell me about the police enforcement for the summit, bringing in policemen from Sweden and Germany, as Denmark did not have a large enough police force, and explained that the country had set up a new rule allowing the police to arrest people under the suspicion that they may cause trouble. A rule that, according to him, the vast majority of Danish people did not approve of.
There were also many demonstrations going on in the city of Copenhagen and also making their way to the Bella Centre. Although I was busy inside the building and thus did not get to witness these in person, I did have several occasions to bump into these demonstrators. A young woman, in her early twenties, was walking around in the building with a pink top, holding a fake pregnant belly. I was with a colleague and I looked at her inquisitively, with a pretty clear idea of the message she was trying to convey. She stopped and spoke to us, told us she was trying to show policy makers that she was concerned for the future of her baby. She had short curly blond hair and a round, baby pink face with bright eyes full of cheekiness, and my heart went out to her, with her engagement, young as she was, I sensed there were people around me who wanted to make a difference in whatever way they had found to express themselves. There were also marches and young people filming in the halls. The place was bustling with young people, engaged in some way or another to make their point heard and this in itself was an inspiring atmosphere.
Eleanor Smith, European Renewable Energy Council