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Celebrity craze and queues at Copenhagen

Yesterday (Tuesday) I saw one journalist klap another in a mad rush to get tickets for an Arnold Schwarzenegger address at the climate change talks in Copenhagen. Other journalists were almost trampled. And in the end the ”climate action hero”, as he was introduced, didn’t have that much to say, except to push the US’s line of doing more at home and not waiting for an international agreement.

Al Gore’s presser went a similar route as journalists went celebrity-mad owing to there being little else to write about. Negotiations dredged on, pressure was increasing, but there seemed to be a lull before the storm. Concerns were growing that the negotiations were heading toward a deadlock.

Yet everyone knew that an acceptable text had to be prepared before the likes of US President Barack Obama arrived. And that means tough negotiations through the night.

Monday’s high drama of Africa suspending talks was still a talking point on Tuesday, but because negotiations had got going again late on Monday night and continued into Tuesday morning, there were a lot of bleary-eyed negotiators walking the hallways. Yet despite the slow pace of negotiations, hope remained that Friday would deliver some sort of a deal.

Today the heads of state start arriving, which means tighter security and even tighter lips about countries’ strategies. Already delegates are hinting that the time is fast approaching when they will pull their ace to get negotiations going — and the South African delegation is no exception.

Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, however, refused to say more, only giving a cryptic smile. All she would say was that South Africa had something in its back pocket.

The Africa group continued to be a force, saying it would not buckle to a greenwashed deal just for the sake of a deal. And Kyoto remained a huge sticking point, with the European Union and the US looking to replace it with a new treaty into which they would incorporate what they called Kyoto’s ”best parts”. But the developing world insisted that without Kyoto there would be no treaty whatsoever and that it would be a dealbreaker.

The tension was heightened by the huge, mind-numbing queue to get accreditation in the Bella Centre. Then there is another line where you are searched and cleared (wait, that recorder might be much more sinister) — and then, just when you think you’ve made it, you have to get in another queue for food … and the toilets. Negotiators are not exempt, as one delegate from South Africa complained. Here the only VIPs are ministers and heads of state.

Politics filled the hallways — and you couldn’t help but trip over the many steadfast positions from which negotiating blocks such as the EU and US refused to budge.

But beneath the politics lies a very real urgency that so many politicians tied up in complicated negotiations just refused to grasp: what will happen to our world?

And in that question lies a very scary truth.

Maybe that is why the crowds outside refused to leave despite the freezing conditions.

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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