Archive for the ‘ The Scene at COP-15 ’ Category

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

Heading home…

I’ll be heading home in a couple hours since that is when the science ends and the political firestorm takes off. I don’t totally regret that I’m going home for the really interesting part though since I wouldn’t be able to see it if I were here anyway.  Denmark seems to have underestimated the number of delegates that this conference would draw while overestimating the size of their facility. The Bella center, as beautiful as it is, has a capacity of 15,000. With 5,000 members of the press and an influx of many thousands of party delegates inbound in the coming days, there is very little room for the ~20,000 NGO delegates. Each delegation is being given a small handful of secondary badges that will be needed from today on. Connie Hedegaard met with all of the NGO delegates yesterday and first asked us to not let up on the pressure, and then qualified that in response to a question with the apology that it’ll be so much harder to do that once the NGO delegate allotment vanishes in response. Again, a question answered so tactfully that I forgot the main reason people are grumpy is that we’ve been put in too small of a facility.

That said, I do wish there were a way I could sit in on the 16th of December speeches. They’ll go from noon to roughly 2 a.m. on the 17th… but how awesome would it be to hear a litany of speeches on climate change from some of the most powerful and controversial people of our era.  The speaker list seems to change every day, but right now it includes Hugo Chavez, Jose Manuel Barroso, Saad Harriri, Felipe Calderon, Kevin Rudd, Wen Jiabao, Hosny Mubarak, Prince Albert II of Monaco (winner of the Roger Revelle Prize at Scripps and advocate of ocean acidification research), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Luiz da Silva, Myung-bak Lee, Zapatero, Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, Hsien Loong Lee, and Gloria Arroyo. The number of other heads of state speaking are really too numerous to count… these are just the names that I recognize from listening to NPR too much… I’m not sure if Berlusconi is on the list still and I didn’t check yesterday.

Yesterday saw the walkout of the G77 and a bizarre hoax played on Canada.

Also I was lucky enough to be present when two people from countries that don’t officially exist had a conversation over lunch. A girl from the British Virgin Islands was talking to me, Grant, and another girl from Taiwan about how her country was in a tough spot… as part of Britain they are an “Annex 1,” or rich, country, but as a developing island region they hardly have the resources to battle sea level rise much less reduce their own emissions. The assumption under Kyoto was that Britain would help, but, if I understood correctly, her region has so far seen 20,000 pounds from the mainland on this issue.  The girl from Taiwan then pointed out that she was in the equal and opposite situation… as a developed region that was lumped officially into China under Kyoto her region had no emission reduction responsibility under Kyoto.

Ok, I’m headed home now.  Good luck Copenhagen!

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Week Two

Delegation seating in main plenary hall, Bella Center.

Delegation seating in main plenary hall, Bella Center.

Week two of a COP conference is when the advance teams and assistants give way to world leaders, who lock the doors behind them and work out the deals that become a protocol. So far the prospects look dim for COP15: African and island state delegations boycotted the talks yesterday, arguing that developed nations needed to commit to deeper emissions cuts than had been offered. The U.S. and China have been trading accusations since the U.S. demanded that China submit to independent verification of its emissions.

So there may be a feeling of pessimism that this conference will produce anything solid, anything that will effect positive change. I see it a different way. I see progress coming from the periphery of this conference.  My hunch is that countries will come to embrace emissions reductions and alternatives to oil as a matter of domestic policy rather than as a means of compliance with international treaties. A China, for instance, might choose to stop investing its plentiful cash in U.S. bonds but instead put it into its own infrastructure. The global downturn could provide the breather the country needs to stop building coal-fired power plants at a weekly rate and raise the profile of wind and solar in its energy portfolio.

I see hope in the kinds of things that people ask questions about here at Bella Center. I’m thinking of the Kenyan researcher interested in the links between ocean acidification as a threat to tourism as coral reefs dissolve and die, becoming uninteresting to sport divers. No need to convince him that it pays to go green.

The issues that our scientists brought to COP15 — from the need to verify emissions to make carbon markets work to the rising threat of ocean acidification— gained traction among the media and high-ranking delegates. During COP15, NOAA Adminstrator Jane Lubchenco and London’s Sunday Times used the same term — “climate change’s evil twin” — to describe ocean acidification. Fresh from his time at COP15, our Veerabhadran Ramanathan attended the annual American Geophyscial Union meeting in San Francisco. His description of his Project Surya drew a packed audience.

Today, Tuesday, most of the Scripps delegation left town. The departed were fortunate to avoid a confusing United Nations scheme to address overcrowding that will progressively scale back the numbers of NGO members allowed at Bella Center. They are doing this to deal with an apparently unforeseen onslaught of press and delegates Even holders of the prized “secondary passes” issued this past weekend had to spend hours in bitter cold in queues outside the building before being separated from those awaiting basic credentialing. That was really the only downside of the event. Terrible planning.

COP15 Tourist

COP15 Tourist

But as the science is winding down, the conference and Copenhagen itself are gearing up for a final act that will involve most of the world’s heads of state. Climate change events and demonstrations continue and the city is draped in advocacy-group slogans. One gets the impression, though, that only a portion of this activism is for the conference. Copenhagen seems like a city that lives green all the time, not just when the world is watching. The public transportation is advanced, everyone rides a bicycle (naturally the people are all the fitter for it), the country gets 21 percent of its power from wind. Somehow these people are happy even without using foreign oil. Mystifying.

The beautiful city’s remarkable commitment has made it a model during the conference. Can other cities be like this?

Of course — though I think Mexico City has its work cut out for it before it hosts the next Conference of the Parties.

Signing off from Copenhagen.

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Thanks to our Friends!


Sunday in Nyhavn

There are thousands of options for nightlife in Copenhagen, especially in the middle of a United Nations conference. Every square in town has some sort of entertainment related to the climate talks — and of course, there are plenty of protests to watch.

But the evenings have been time mostly for quiet dinners among members of the Scripps delegation. They’ve been important opportunities for students, staff and faculty at Scripps to visit with the friends of the institution who have made this entire trip possible.

The Scripps presence at COP-15 has been entirely funded by friends of Scripps. No state tax dollars at work here. From the plane tickets to accommodations to the USB drives eagerly snatched up and coming home with journalists and delegates all around the world, supporters who care about science have succeeded in giving it a showcase at the world’s most importance gathering on climate. They have also allowed our students a chance to see science and policy come together on one of the most important issues of this era.

Generous support came from the Oak Foundation, Jesse Fink, Jason Khoury, Ellen Lehman, Lee Stein. Steve Strachan, and Kathy Paulin. Thanks one and all!

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Dec. 10 Scripps press conference webcast available

Watch Tony Haymet and Ray Weiss of Scripps host “Trust but Verify: Why Climate Legislation and Carbon-equivalent Trading Need Atmospheric Emission Verification to Work.”

Click to view webcast of Scripps COP-15 Press Conference, “Trust but Verify: Why Climate Legislation and Carbon-equivalent Trading Need Atmospheric Emission Verification to Work.” (It may take a few minutes to load)

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Getting the Word Out

It’s said that delegates to COP meetings come with their minds already made up, so the best we can do is raise awareness of our research topics through the media and interactions with other NGOs. It’s a good day when we can persuade journalists covering the conference to take interest in our topics as thousands of voices vie for attention. Our researchers have given interviews to outlets ranging from USA Today to Capital FM Radio in Malawi.

A chance encounter at dinner near our hotel eventually led to geochemistry Professor Ray Weiss’ live BBC Radio appearance Thursday morning. We hustled down to the BBC studio set up at the Bella Center where Ray was interviewed during the prime morning breakfast hour. He was also interviewed for the BBC World Service website.

Ray Weiss in the temporary BBC Radio studio at Bella Center

Ray Weiss in the temporary BBC Radio studio at Bella Center

Fellow Scripps researcher Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences, is no stranger to interviews and gave “man on the street” comments to a team from DR1, a Danish television network, from the exhibit being shared by Scripps Oceanography, POGO (the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans), Oceana and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Those comments will find their way into a documentary to be broadcast early next year.

Danish television outlet DR1 interviews Scripps researcher. V Ramanathan

Danish television outlet DR1 interviews Scripps researcher. V Ramanathan

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Connie Hedegaard

She’s the Dane who is in charge of making something happen in Copenhagen. She’s the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, the President of COP15, and the host of this whole thing. The whole world is watching her. A quote: “If the whole world comes to Copenhagen and leaves without making the needed political agreement, then I think it’s a failure that is not just about climate. Then it’s the whole global democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.”

This morning, I met her. I saw her in the hall, walked up to her, introduced myself, and told her that she is doing a great job. As she headed off to chair yet another stressful morning with little progress, I said, “Good luck.”

Actually, that’s not true. I did see her in the hall. I did walk past her, nearly brushing arms. I did think all of those things. But, I decided to leave her to her thoughts. She has more to worry about than meeting a grad student from California…even one with some encouraging words. She has a huge task. And with all the competing interests here, I really do want to wish her luck. I guess I missed my chance. Maybe I shouldn’t have passed up that opportunity…

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

The World Comes to Copenhagen

Hope you enjoy this video montage of early footage from Scripps Oceanography at the COP-15 climate talks in Copenhagen…

Some things that I've learned so far…

I can actually walk right into the main negotiations and watch.  UN interpreters know LOTS of languages.  I did not need to bring my sunglasses to Copenhagen.  I did need to bring a power converter to plug in my computer.  Watching a booth is a great way to meet a lot of like-minded people.  Copenhagen is a very expensive city.  I am not very good at operating in a country that speaks another language, even when everyone in that country also speaks English.  I just find myself acting very shy (and therefore eating a candy bar for dinner…).  I must know more Spanish than I thought because I don’t have these same problems in Mexico.  It is totally dark here at both 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.  Despite my insistence that I have defeated jet lag, I have been up since 4 this morning.  It’s now 7.  Time to get ready for a new round of getting the word out.  Don’t forget the ocean!!

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student


Denmark’s commitment to tackling the climate change issue is quite impressive.  The entire city is completely dedicated to this meeting.  It’s the biggest thing to ever happen here.  And “ever” is a long time.  Copenhagen is an old place…older than my country.

They have added a new conference center; they have added bus routes, all public transportation is free for COP15 participants.  A big square downtown has been completely transformed into climate change central, complete with stage, bike-powered Christmas tree, and GIANT magic globe.  Everything is really impressive.

And it’s not just the conference.  The Danes are committed to sustainability in most of what they do.  I was almost hit by a bike yesterday, because the bike lanes look like roads, and they are often overwhelmingly full.  Their airlines are efficient.  They love wind power.  They are a conscientious crowd, and it really shows in their operation of this conference.  More on that later.

One other cool thing:  last night I saw a bigwig UN climate person introduced with concert-like excitement and to a roaring crowd.  I’m sure it was pretty new and exciting for her.  It is only fitting that she was opening for a German rock band….

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

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