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Temperatures rising

Trouble was already brewing in Copenhagen on Monday morning. With the United Nations climate negotiations the hottest show on Earth this week, thousands more participants than expected descended on the Danish capital.

The Bella Centre, an ultra-modern conference centre with a wind turbine said to be providing power, accommodated only 15 000 people — not the 45 000 registered participants.

The losers were the NGOs, which suddenly found themselves at the wrong end of the queue. To make room for the country delegations — Brazil had more then 600 people in its party — NGOs were evicted. Vocal critics of the pace of the negotiations, Friends of the Earth, Avaaz, TckTckTck and Via Campesina, were shown the door.

On Tuesday only NGOs with a secondary pass could enter. The UN allocated only 1 000 observer or NGO passes for Thursday’s session, compared with 15 000 last week.

Friends of the Earth director Andy Atkins said he was stunned to discover that every delegate of the organisation has been banned from attending. ”This draconian measure is completely unjustified,” he said. ”The Copenhagen Conference is fast becoming an international shambles.”

The night before, police raided a number of NGO sideshows, including a Greenpeace biofuels event. The Danish police apparently believed the aim was to make Molotov cocktails.

Climate Justice Action spokesperson and prominent activist Tadzio Mueller was detained by Danish plain-clothes policemen as he left the Bella Centre. His organisation had been planning a protest, ”Reclaim Power”, for Wednesday morning and when the activists started marching, frustration about the sidelining of the NGOs erupted.

The Danish police tried to force the activists to walk around the barricades. When they refused and pushed through the barricades, they were baton-charged. The UN said 175 people were arrested, but the NGOs claimed the total number might be as high as 250. Activists claimed 30 people had been treated for exposure to pepper spray and 10 protesters suffered head wounds from batons. The UN called the violence ”unfortunate” and ”unnecessary”.

The tension between conference organisers and the NGOs rose further when the press releases of one organisation were confiscated, allegedly because the UN did not agree with their message. The World Wide Fund was also prevented from distributing media releases at the centre, according to a spokesperson.

”Oxfam is extremely concerned about the limited access which observers have to the international climate talks and the outright exclusion of some organisations altogether,” said Mary Robinson, Honorary Chair of Oxfam International. ”With the negotiations here in crisis we desperately need the engagement and witness of people’s organisations to keep the pressure on political leaders to deliver a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal.”


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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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