15 Dec 2009
Copenhagen: excluding people and voices for an unfair deal
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The Copenhagen conference will definitely go down as the worst meeting in global climate negotiations. There is a complete mess here: lines of people standing outside the Bella Centre, where the conference is taking place, wanting to get in. Inside the meeting has broken down for the umpteenth time because industrialized countries refuse to commit to cutting emissions. Instead they want the global climate agreement changed, so that they do less and developing countries do more. The clock is ticking to Friday, when heads of state will descend to sign the ‘historical accord’. But on freezing Monday there was no sign of the paper they would agree to sign, no agreement and the chaos inside and outside was horrendous.


I with a group of media colleagues was in the crowd on this Monday. Not inside but outside, in the freezing cold. We stood for over 8 hours, waiting to register but as the hours passed by the line stopped moving ahead. But nobody came out and explained. Nobody moved in the line either. They did not know how long they would have to stand tomorrow, if they gave up their place today. Complete stalemate, much like the talks happening inside.


It was said that the cameras used in the elaborate security clearance of the UN meet had broken down. Things were slow because everybody had to be cleared manually. Others said that the conference hall had no place. It was full. But nobody could explain, why, the Danish government and the UN climate secretariat had given online registration to people. They knew how many they had registered. They knew then how many would come to Copenhagen. So, why this mess? Just incompetence or is there more to it.


The fact is that some 40,000 people have come to this freezing city not for a party. But to be part of the event that they believe is important for the future of the world. Climate change impacts their lives. They want to be here to listen, to cajole and to protest as governments prevaricate on the issues that concern their lives.


They come also because climate change is real, it is urgent and there is overwhelming interest on this matter. So, why did the Danish government, which has had a minister for climate change, Connie Hedegaard, running across the world whipping up this interest, failed to plan for the people it invited?


The reason it seems that the Danish government would want to run the climate change conference, without messy numbers of people and without messy consultations, which involve all countries. So, Connie Hedegaard's job was to select carefully the few friendly governments and even friendlier ministers (including ours) who could be consulted in closed door meetings to arrive at a ‘consensus’ paper, which would be presented to all other governments at the climate conference.


This is the ‘infamous’ Danish proposal, which has revealed last week and created a huge uproar. For two reasons: one, most governments not part of the Danish-club were angry at the process, which was not consultative or transparent. Two, the paper changed the very framework of the climate agreement – from one based on equity and burden sharing to one which would give the biggest polluters, namely US, Australia and Canada, a cop-out. But even now, after the Danish proposal was rejected it is still surfacing.


On Monday, talks broke down because the chair of the conference wanted to speed up the discussions under the Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA), which includes elements of the Danish paper, to create a single-treaty for developed and developing countries. The African group objected saying that it needed the process under Kyoto Protocol (KP) to be discussed, as this is where the numbers of how much the industrialized countries will cut will be put on the table. In frustration and anger they walked out. Talks were suspended. African nations said in no uncertain terms that they wanted a fair deal: A deal to save them and the planet.


Now, after some compromise, talks are beginning again. But nobody believes that there has been an agreement.   


But this is not about what happens inside closed doors, where men (and it is largely men) in suits fight over commas, full-stops and brackets (in UN-parlance, all disagreements are put in brackets). Climate change is about people. It is about how it is affecting lives of millions already, through more variable monsoons, intensification of tropical cyclones or disappearing lands in the sea. People want to be included in the process. They want that there is a human face on the numbers of the climate change catastrophe.


That is what Copenhagen is about. That is why people stood outside in the bitter cold, unfazed by the callousness of the Danish hosts of the conference or the rudeness of the country's police. They want and demand more. Lets see if the next few days will get them closer to a fair deal. Lets see.