On a bitterly cold Friday evening, I leave Oksnehallen Hall and make my way to City Hall Square. Greenpeace has organised a “climate shame” photo shoot at Oksnehallen Hall in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district. This was an alternative venue provided by the Danish Foreign Minister as access to Bella Center was restricted during COP15. The venue has television connections to the Bella Center until the end of COP15.
After a long walk from City Hall Square (Radhuspladsen) to the end of Kongens Nytorv shopping street, I come across “100 places to remember before they disappear.” This is an outdoor photo exhibition hosted by CO+Life and CARE Denmark that showcases 100 places on the planet that are in danger of disappearing within the next few generations due to climatic changes and other human influences on the environment.
The exhibition is located against a large billboard on the European Environmental Agency’s building that reads “Bend the Trend!” The graph on the billboard is a representation of the Copenhagen Climate Summit as a historic event, showing an increase in GHG emissions and average global temperatures from 1970 to 2050. In the center, it is written “COP15 today,” followed by an upward arrow representing the result of “Doing Nothing More,” which will lead to climate change disaster, and a downward arrow representing “Acting Ambitiously Together,” which will keep us well below the 2-degree Celsius safe level set by scientists to prevent dangerous climate change.
The name “Bend the Trend” is fitting for this display, and I wonder if the outcome of the last day of negotiations will allow us to do so. I recall the most recent update from Greenpeace International’s Political Team.
“…The Copenhagen Climate Summit has been on the calendar for two years. That the leaders of the rich world have turned up here with empty rhetoric and even emptier pockets beggars belief. This is particularly reprehensible given the pledges made by developing countries to curb their emissions. There are only a couple of hours left to put this right.
It is not FAIR to expect poor countries to shoulder the burdens created and ignored by the industrialized world.
It is not AMBITIOUS if rich countries refuse to make the deep cuts that science and historical responsibility demands.
It is not LEGALLY BINDING if the final agreement consists of hopes, dreams and wishes rather than commitments under international law.
Time is almost up. Will this day be remembered as the day the rich world took a giant step towards averting climate chaos, or will it go down in history as the day the death warrants of millions were signed…”
At the outdoor photo exhibition, I come across a familiar sight – a floating market. The title of the photo is “The Sinking City of Angels,”. Although the photo is not of Bangkok itself, but rather of the nearby provinces of Samut Sakhon or Samut Songkram. The caption of the photo provides further context.
“Home to hundreds of Buddhist temples and tiny canals, a multitude of street vendors, thousands of skyscrapers, an elevated urban sky train and a brand new airport, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis where the traditional East meets the modernity of the West…..”
“…Located in one of Asia’s “mega deltas” and only two meters above sea level, Bangkok is massively exposed to flooding, especially during the monsoon season. This is compounded by the fact that the city is sinking due to the soft soils, heavy urbanization and excessive pumping out of groundwater. Some estimates suggest that the whole city is subsiding by as much as 5 cm a year…”
“All these conditions make the Thai capital particularly vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels. Any increase in extreme storm surges would erode the coastal area and cause severe flooding. Salt water intrusion could also seriously affect supplied of drinking water…”
“Unless urgent steps are taken, large part of Bangkok could be under water before the end of century”
As the temperature drops, my body shivers with cold. I can’t help but ask myself, “What can I do to make a difference here?” With the Bella Center negotiations anticipated to fall short of expectations, Copenhagen has left me feeling a sense of frustration. Though I’m grateful to have been a part of this historic global day of climate action, the Copenhagen climate talks fail to offer a real solution to “Bend the Trend” or “Seal the Deal.”
I recall the Maldives’ President’s words, “You cannot bargain with mother nature.” Despite the lack of a significant climate deal, I strongly believe that in the face of environmental destruction or a climate crisis, humans have the ability to turn the crisis into an opportunity.
Even if Copenhagen fails to deliver a FAB climate deal, the grassroots climate movement of ordinary people continues to grow and inspire hope. I won’t give up without a fight.