Climate worlds: Copenhagen cosmology

Barbara Kiser blogs about the 2009 Development and Climate Days event in Copenhagen

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15 December 2009

A vast blue box dropped onto a tabletop: this is the Koncerthuset, where IIED’s Development and Climate Days came to a close yesterday.

The ‘tabletop’ is an urban plain that might as well be on the outskirts of Detroit. It’s divided like a giant’s chessboard into big chilly squares of concrete and water and bare earth studded with heaps of soil, ready for more Bauhaus-inspired boxes. Inside, the Koncerthuset is a minimalist shrine to Danish design.

That might sound bleak, but this venue’s bare elegance has been a brilliant showcase for discussion, debate, film showings — and above all the fruitful interaction between people from dozens of countries that has been a hallmark of this event.

This is one of the Copenhagen worlds. Here it has been possible to talk frankly and often entertainingly with people from every subfield and sector in the development and environment fields — to share views on climate funding with a top climate scientist, and find out from a UN supremo just how the ‘scaling up’ of community-based adaptation might work.

An enlightening talk by President Nasheed of the Maldives, Tanzanian environment minister Batilda Burian and Kenya’s minister of water and irrigation Charity Kaluki Ngilu ended the four-day event (see the last COP15 blog).

Big planet

Just down the road and the elevated Metro track is the big planet in this particular system: the Bella Center. There’s a Bella-Center-shaped hole in this blog, as it has often been almost impossible to enter without queueing for hours over the last two days. And now that security is clamping down, it's a virtual fortress. And it can only get tougher: 45,000 people signed up to get into a centre that holds 15,000.

Even when you're in, the many side events available are usually oversubscribed. So a lot of non-negotiators entering the Bella Center must be content with the ‘trade fair’ section of the site: NGOs by the yard, knots of journalists, people leafing through mounds of literature.

The negotiations or ‘talks’, the real deal, have been chronicled by IIED’s Senior Fellow Saleemul Huq in his vlog on this website. All that happens, of course, behind closed doors. It’s a half-hidden world whose trajectory has puzzled climate observers for some years.

Colleagues and partners involved in the negotiations have revealed, though, that the process can be a bit like tiptoeing through an alarm clock factory. This most urgent of tasks can proceed with the pace of continental drift. Paragraphs, sentences, commas and full stops are haggled over for hours, sometimes days. Progress, as noted in the UK Guardian's Copenhagen Diary, can be measured in the number and type of brackets that litter the draft text.

General exhaustion

Everyone is exhausted: two years of preparation and strategic thinking look as if they could founder at the edge of the widening rift between not just developing and developed countries, but voting blocs such as the G77, that form and reform over the years. And last week, the G77 (the largest group of developing countries in the UN) itself effectively fell apart.

Loyalty and solidarity can be essential for poorer countries with less of a voice. There is strength in numbers, so any shift can scupper the work of years.

It is no longer news that the climate talks have stalled, although that could change tomorrow or on 18 December, when all the presidential planes have touched down. But some say they see definite signs of the G77 coalescing again. And if developing countries can stick to three top priorities through the vagaries of the negotiations, there’s a real chance of progress in the talks.

Energy — and hope

Also, as Huq has pointed out, there is tremendous energy out there on the streets. The 100,000 who marched two days ago (and the more than 1000 protestors arrested from the start of COP15), and the millions who have peaceably demonstrated elsewhere round the world, are formidably focused on what is really at stake here. And they are reminding leaders of that, as well as the rest of us.

This is the last of Copenhagen’s ‘worlds’: the sphere of Klimaforum, the people’s climate summit, and the Climate Bottom Meeting at latterday hippie haven Christiania.

Klimaforum may appear somewhat dated and ‘righteous’ to some, with its clusters of people sprawled on the floor in earnest argument. But the debates here have been focused, the mood energised and positive, and the speakers excellent, from Maldivian president Nasheed to Naomi Klein, Nnimmo Bassey, George Monbiot and Bill McKibben. And it all cost a fraction of the bill for COP15.

Nevertheless, it’s to the COPs that we still need to look to get the scaffolding up, and rebuild. So, as usual, the truth is somewhere between. A COP informed by the will and inclusive spirit of Klimaforum would be something.

Globally, aware and concerned citizens are the majority. It is those numbers, along with their energy and sense of solidarity with the goals of the poorest, most climate-vulnerable countries, that offer real hope on this long and rocky road to a new deal.

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