Week 2: Tuesday and Wednesday

The blog is back up!  Now, what I’d been meaning to post since yesterday, plus some today updates, so apologies if this gets a little long.

I arrived in Copenhagen yesterday after a marathon of flights (Orange County to Minneapolis/St Paul, Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Copenhagen) and hit the ground running. I was informed by the nice COP15 representatives at the airport that in the near 24 hours since I boarded my first plane, the situation had gotten a little crazy, with NGO delegates waiting in line for up to seven hours trying to get their badges. As I’d arrived around 15:30 local time and was already sleep-deprived and disoriented, I figured I might as well try to get in that afternoon rather than ruin my Wednesday morning, which proved fortuitous; through sheer luck I managed to get my badge within about three hours, and to my understanding we were the last batch to get badges, period.

Besides the logistical nightmares (more on that later), the experience so far has been almost surreal, possibly because of jet lag. When I got in Tuesday evening I wandered around the Bella Center a bit as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get in today at all. There are representatives of practically every group that has an interest in the climate change issue; before yesterday I hadn’t really given it much thought that there could be a “women for climate solutions” organization (actually there may have been two or three!), then of course there were youth groups (which was encouraging), developing countries, alternative fuel industries, and universities such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography, just to name a few. I was also interested to see the number of vegetarian/vegan advocacy groups there, mostly handing out paraphernalia outside the front gate. I went fully vegetarian about a year ago primarily for the environmental benefits, and I feel it’s one of those often-overlooked climate mitigation strategies. It would be interesting to see delegates at one of these meetings try to offset their travel emissions by eating lower on the food chain for the duration of the conference.

I have to say the thing I’m most disappointed about is, as others have mentioned, the organization of the event (or rather, the lack thereof). Those in charge could definitely have done a better job of setting up NGO access, as well as facilitating the dissemination of information. They say there are about 40,000 people here, but the capacity of the Bella Center is only 15,000.  The solution to this was to limit the number of people by giving each delegation a certain number of “secondary” passes, so in order to get in you need both your primary photo badge and then a secondary badge. However, as of Tuesday, if you didn’t have a secondary badge they wouldn’t let you in to pick up your primary badge (I saw several fellow line-standers get turned away after getting through security because they didn’t have the secondary badges.) What an awful experience to fly all the way from somewhere like Africa or Australia to attend these events, only to be turned away before even getting through the door, or missing your side events because of the registration logjam! Beyond that, even, they are limiting the number of us who can get into the BC to fewer and fewer each day, so the secondary badges don’t even guarantee anything: 7,000 today, 1,000 tomorrow, and only 90 on Friday. Ostensibly this is to keep the building under capacity while protecting the heads of state from the protesters seen on the news today, but it is quite disappointing as those of us left had hoped to see Obama speak on Friday.  The BBC is reporting that some protesters have tried and succeeded to spend the night inside the BC; good luck to them, but those of us who succumbed to the desire to sleep in a bed and have a shower will probably go around to some of the external side events of Thursday and Friday, and with any luck find a closed-circuit broadcast of the proceedings airing outside the BC.  Something like that could probably have gone a long way in placating the masses as well as reducing congestion at the BC, especially considering the powers that be knew the people there would amount to almost three times the capacity, but as far as I can tell there is nothing widely publicized of that nature going on. Most of the information desk people were as helpful as they possibly could be, but there was definitely a gap in communication somewhere along the line.

We did manage to get in this morning, though they had already blocked NGO access to the main plenary. We were able to go into the secondary plenary hall and for a brief period they were broadcasting the ongoing plenary proceedings there. Heads of state were supposed to speak in the afternoon, but as of when they turned off the broadcast there was still a back-and-forth going on between negotiators, which was a shame, as I was hoping to see what el presidente Hugo Chavez and the other scheduled heads of state had to say.

Other highlights:
–on our final descent into Amsterdam, seeing not one but two offshore wind farms.

Offshore wind farm off Amsterdam

–going out to dinner with the group only to have the governor of California and the LA mayor walk in and sit at the next table, with an entourage of about 15. Look out soon for the picture of Tamara, me, and Arnold Schwarzenegger that Rob scored with his excellent communication skills.

John Kerry speaking at COP-15

John Kerry speaking at COP-15

–getting in to see John Kerry speak today. He was very optimistic about the potential for a climate bill passing the Senate next year, but emphasized that an agreement here would facilitate that process. I’m not quite so optimistic, but it’s nice to see sitting politicians recognize the gravity of the situation, and I hope he proves me wrong.

–sitting in the plenary and using the translating headphones!

–and, completely unrelated to the conference: snow!

Snow in Copenhagen (the dark blurred figures are bicyclists)

–Kristina Pistone, Scripps graduate student

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