Copenhagen bursting at the seams

The world has descended on Copenhagen — or it certainly feels that way. Rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty suddenly took on a new meaning as space dried up at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen, where climate-change negotiations are taking place.

Copenhagen certainly is the spot to be seen at the moment. The bouncers wear United Nations security uniforms, and access to venues is only allowed via prior arrangement.

But this hasn’t deterred 45 000 people from turning up.

Despite the stampede of delegates to hit the Danish capital, negotiations still moved at a snail’s pace and all but grinded to a halt on Monday as African delegates refused to entertain what they called the weak pledges from rich nations.

In Copenhagen, all accommodation is booked out, and even in nearby Malmo in Sweden you are more likely to win the Lotto than find a hotel room. Delegates are staying as far as Lund — almost an hour-and-half commute by train.

On Monday there was a more than two-hour wait in the queue to get into the centre. Security is tight, and painstakingly slow as well, with the arrival of high-level politicians and celebrities.

The centre is equipped to hold 15 000 people, but so far a total of 45 215 people have registered for the round of negotiations. This includes 11 500 parties of the different countries trying to bash out a deal. Just less than 23 000 NGOs have indicated they will attend, but the bad news is that from Tuesday only 1 000 people will be allowed in. Just less than 3 500 members of the media are attending, while 7 400 UN members will join the party. At the time of writing on Monday, a total of 22 387 people had walked through the Bella Centre’s gates.

In the mix of celebrities that are being seen at the biggest party this year are model Helena Christensen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Desmond Tutu, Al Gore and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Later this week almost all the high-flyer heads of state, including US President Barack Obama, are expected to add further colour and weight to the talks.

‘They are just protecting their own interests’
But stargazing was not on the mind of the delegates stuck in the two-and-half-hour queue outside the centre. Tempers erupted in the sub-zero temperatures, while some gave up all together and went back to their hotel. The bad news for all concerned is that things are only likely to get worse as the week progresses.

Inside, moods were also just as downcast as the grey skies outside. The Africa group was deeply disappointed with the negotiations. Behind the scenes, ministers were trying to salvage the situation, but an African delegate told the Mail & Guardian in no uncertain terms that the rich countries were ”giving nothing”.

”Our countries will suffer most, but they are just protecting their own interests,” he said. And he had no good words for the conference’s host, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who many African delegates felt was trying too hard to accommodate rich nations, including the elusive US.

NGOs such as Oxfam and ActionAid, however, backed the African group’s tough stance.

Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, said: ”Africa has pulled the emergency cord to avoid a train crash at the end of the week. Poor countries want to see an outcome that guarantees sharp emissions reductions, yet rich countries are trying to delay discussions on the only mechanism we have to deliver this — the Kyoto Protocol.

”This not about blocking the talks — it is about whether rich countries are ready to guarantee action on climate change and the survival or people in Africa and across the world.

”Australia and Japan are crying foul while blocking movement on legally binding emissions reductions for rich countries. This tit-for-tat approach is no way to deal with the climate crisis.”

Developing countries were deeply unhappy about what they saw as attempts to chuck the Kyoto Protocol into the rubbish bin and start with a fresh new deal. For the developing world, a deal without the basis of the Kyoto Protocol is unacceptable.

But what irked the African group and the G77 + China even more was the secret negotiations taking place behind closed doors, which gave birth to the controversial Danish text and other rumoured secret texts that were allegedly being discussed by rich nations. These so-called ”informal discussions”, some with the presidency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), continued to widen the rift between developing and developed countries.

The Chinese delegates were openly suspicious of their American counterparts on Monday, while Bolivia compared the rich nations’ club to The Matrix.

”We are asking for a transparent democratic and inclusive process. It seems negotiators are living in The Matrix while the real negotiation is taking place in the ‘Green Room’, at small stealth dinners with selective guests,” said Pablo Solon, Bolivian ambassador to UN.

”The presidency of the UNFCCC says that its informal consultations will be based on regional participation, but have not indicated how these will be chosen. They are creating an undemocratic parallel process where they can pick and choose only some countries.”

”It seems the only ones who have taken the ”red pill” and are aware of the reality are those who marched in the streets on Saturday, who have denounced the rich countries for trying to stitch a deal that will undermine their obligation to tackle this urgent climate crisis.”

The Mail & Guardian’s award-winning environmental reporter, Yolandi Groenewald, is blogging and tweeting her way through the conference. Visit our special report here for more updates and follow her on Twitter here.

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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