My adventure in Copenhagen Climate Summit

Tara Buakamsri

COUNTDOWN CLOCK

December 10, 2009

When I arrive at Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport, I have a chance to log on to the website and see that the Countdown to Copenhagen clock for the UN climate summit showed exactly 24 hours before the most important meeting in the history of mankind is to begin to find a way forward to deal with catastrophic climate change.

As I exit the airport, I notice eye-catching billboards with ageing world leaders saying, “I’m sorry, we could have prevented catastrophic climate change… we didn’t.”

Photo Credit : Greenpeace

All advertisements featured Lula of Brazil, Tusk of Poland, Brown of the United Kingdom, Merkel of Germany, Sarkozy of France, Zapatero of Spain, Medvedev of Russia, Harper of Canada, and Rudd of Australia, are part of Greenpeace’s campaign to remind them of their responsibility to future generations and to make the right decision to ensure an FAB (fair, ambitious, and binding) deal for the climate and for all life on the planet.

Thousands of people have descended on Copenhagen for this one-of-a-kind summit (also known as the 15th Conference of Parties or COP 15 in short), and all hotels, hostels, and accommodations, as well as the grounds themselves, have been transformed into makeshift accommodations for the thousands more expected to arrive in the coming days. Fortunately, I have a bed at a youth hostel, where I am sharing a small room with six young Friend of the Earth members from Germany.

On the first day of the climate summit, there is a kilometer-long queue of participants waiting for registration in freezing weather as negotiating teams, journalists from 192 countries, and a mass of NGOs and civil societies from all over the world arrive for the opening sessions. The long line also allows various campaigning groups to interact with those who remain in line.

Greenpeace’s Café, with activists serving hot coffee and pushing the FAB deal, a big screen that is a joint effort between Greenpeace and tcktcktck partner under neat Metro line and right in front of the entrance showing several video clips around the clock. Video clips include features from climate defender camp in Sumatran forest at Kampar peninsular of Indonesia, climate impact in the pacific.

Several groups are making their voices heard at the entrance: men and women in red – climate debt agents – holding a banner that reads “rich countries – pay your climate debt!” ; a regular appearance of supreme Master Ching Hai distributing “Be Veg, Go Green, Save the Planet” leaflets ; men and women with kangaroo puppets with the message blaming “Australian Coal” as the planet’s killer. A COP of coffee – a free cup of coffee provided by the wind energy industry – has a coffee bike that serves fresh coffee, cappuccino, and chai tea to those on their way to the entrance.

Coming a long way to Copenhagen – my first climate summit – I am unable to register on the first day because my name is still waiting to be added to the new list of Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), but I am amazed by looking at the entire Bella Center compound from the metro elevated platform, with one large wind turbine behind and a power plant pumping out smoke plume on the horizon. Greenpeace’s climate rescue station is also located next to the building. I hope for the best, for a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement. Otherwise, the Copenhagen summit will be nothing more than a showcase of corporate-driven climate solutions and a never-ending political debate.

The UNFCCC website’s countdown clock read zero. The talks begin under Copenhagen’s gloomy sky.

KEEP TALKING…THE BOAT IS READY

December 11, 2009

Unfortunately, I miss the highlight of the first day, when Leah Wickham, a young woman from Fiji, spoke on behalf of more than 10 million people who signed the tcktcktck petition calling for an immediate legally binding agreement, and Abigail Jabines, International Solar Generation Coordinator, presented Yvo De Boer, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, and Connie Hedegaard, new President of COP15, with Denmark’s famous lego. The one that represents a building block for a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement. Wickham concluded her speech, which was echoed by many in Copenhagen, by saying, “the time for talking is over, and now it’s time for action.”

Reading one line in the COP15 Post – CPHPOST.DK’s daily climate conference news – Mr. de Boer’s retort to Leah Wickham’s speech was amusing, as he jokedly concluded, “…but I hope you will be a bit patient and give us two more weeks of talking and then we will deliver on the action…”

I learn that there is a lot that needs to be discussed and decided in two weeks. Starting with the proposed GHG reduction targets for the second commitment period and beyond, the new agreement will be expanded to include GHG emissions from the international maritime and aviation industries. Whether the untested and expensive Carbon Capture and Storage technology will be included in Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). Whether the agreement will include measures to slow the rate of deforestation, particularly in developing countries’ tropical rainforests – known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), and many others. But, in the end, we need leaders who act, not politicians who talk.

On my way back from Bella Center, I encounter a group of young people handing out leaflets and inviting commuters to Klima Forum 09 – the civil society counterpart to the COP15 that represents ordinary concerned citizens from all over the world. I decide to go check it out because the venue, DGI-Byen Copenhagen, is only a short walk from the central station.

Aside from the exhibits, workshops, talks, theatre, and music, I am most taken with a photo of a boat listing every single Climate Conference of Parties since 1992.

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

Earth Summit Rio de Janero, Brazil, 1992 CoP 1, Berlin, Germany, 1995 CoP 2 Geneva, Switzerland, 1996 Cop 3 Kyoto, Japan, 1997 CoP 4 Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1998 Cop 5 Bonn, Germany, 1999 CoP 6 The Hague, 2000 CoP 6+ Bonn, Germany, 2001 CoP 7 Marrakech, Morroco, 2001 CoP 8 New Delhi, India, 2002 CoP 9 Milan, Italy, 2003 CoP 10 Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004 CoP 11 Montreal, Canada, 2005 CoP 12 Nirobi, Kenya, 2006 CoP 13 Bali, Indonesia, 2007 CoP 14, Poznan, Poland, 2008 CoP 15, Copenhagen, Denmark 2009.

Mr. Boer is given two weeks and no more… Enough is enough; the time for climate action is clearly now.

THE ENTRANCE

“I was at war in Vietnam,” said the charismatic elderly gentleman of American-Indian origin who sit next to me on the bus to Bella Centre. As a member of indigenous people networks actively participating in the COP15, he is on his way to a TV interview at Klima Forum when we start chatting and he discover I am from Bangkok and work for Greenpeace. “However, after a year of war, during my transition period in Hawaii, I reflected and decided to change the way I live my life, and I returned to the ‘entrance’ of where I used to belong, and sort of decolonized myself. Now that I’m here, I’d like to join the global call for climate justice.”

I sometimes feel lost in the massive crowd of over 25,000 people here in Copenhagen, but it is very easy to meet like-minded people from other parts of the world who are friends and share our common vision.

Many people are still waiting in line at the Bella Center’s entrance for registration. Thousands more are expected to arrive in Copenhagen, which will hopefully include more than 110 heads of state. The security at the entrance is becoming increasingly strict. Despite the chaotic atmosphere, the large flat TV screen near the entrance that displays Greenpeace campaign activities from around the world, including an Indonesian climate defender camp, remains operational.

Today inside the Bella Center I am following the instruction. “…After passing through the registration area and the ID badge checkpoint, proceed straight ahead past the cloakroom and through the exhibition area to a set of double doors with a banner advertising the NGO Climate Rescue Station above them. Push your way through the doors, turn left, and the Climate Rescue Station will be right in front of you. It’s at the Bella Center…”

I’m excited to visit the Rescue Station after seeing pictures of it at the 2008 Poznan Climate Summit. During the Copenhagen Climate Summit, it is transformed into an NGO Climate Rescue Station, hosting events such as photo exhibitions, debates, and film screenings organised by organisations affiliated with the Global Campaign for Climate Action, as well as free coffee served every morning from the station.

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

Short history of the station goes ;

In Poland 2008 the station was set up on the edge of one of the biggest open cast mine in Europe to protest the expansion of the mine and expose true cost of coal. Its position on the edge of the mine show how coal, the worst climate polluting of all fossil fuels, is driving our planet to the edge. Greenpeace activists join hundred of local people including town mayor threatened by the expansion of the pit mine to call for a clean energy revolution in Poland.

During COP14, the CRS moved to Poznan town square where it host a climate impacts exhibition and a concert platform by the British Symphonia Orchestra and speech by Yvo De Boer.

After Poland, the station moved to Madrid, Spain, where it was used by Greenpeace Spain as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations. The CRS hosted public exhibitions showing the impacts of climate change in Spain, and was used for concerts and political discussions. It was also used as an educational center to teach children about renewable energy.

At Glastonbury festival in the UK in June 2009, the station hosted exhibitions and was an information centre about Greenpeace UK’s campaign against third runway at Heathrow airport and against proposed new coal-fired power plants in the UK.

I meet up with Greenpeace colleagues as the official opening of “Consequences” – a photo exhibition of climate impacts that the world is already experiencing – is about to begin.

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International’s new Executive Director, is present and delivers an inspiring message in response to the powerful and stunning photographs.

I introduce one of the Thai negotiators, some Thai NGOs colleagues, and community members to this area, saying, “Well, it’s a smoking area and you can get free coffee, so please come and relax from a very tense and chaotic atmosphere inside.”

Once we push through the door, pass through many smokers, and turn left, there it is right in front of you – the climate rescue station that, at the very least, can save me from the talking circus in the big hall.

SAMBA DRUMS

December 16, 2009

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

Two police and military helicopters hover in the clear blue sky over Christiansborg Slotsplads (Parliament Square), where over 100,000 people have gathered to mark the Global Day of Climate Action, which is taking place in more than 130 countries around the world, demanding that world leaders sign a fair, ambitious, and legally binding climate agreement.

Even at noon, the temperature drops to 2 degrees Celsius as I walk toward the square, where I will stay until 2 p.m. before the march to the Bella Center begins. In the midst of the crowd, I join 200 Greenpeace volunteers wearing light green jackets with the words “Act Now, Change the Future,” some holding placards with various messages, a giant floating snowman and a floating globe in a lifebuoy led by the fascinating Samba Drum – the day’s coolest volunteer team.

“Let’s stick with them so we don’t get lost,” I told Topsi, a former Greenpeace action coordinator from Thailand who is now studying for her master’s degree in Germany and has come over here to represent the University of Freiburg at COP15. When we arrive at the Drum group, I begin jumping up and down with the others.

In my more than 20 years of activism, I have led and participated in several demonstrations and protests; aside from the most memorable and hard-core clean-up action in Bhopal, India, this was the largest climate demonstration I have ever attended. Over 500 organisations from all over the world are taking part. It includes environmental, development, faith, labour, youth, and political organisations. Greenpeace, Oxfam, 350.org, Avaaz, IndyAct, ActionAid, DanChurch Aid, WWF Denmark, Climate Justice Action, Socialist People’s Party Youth, The Danish Social Democratic Youth, Enhedslisten (Red/Green Alliance), and People’s Climate Action were among the demonstration organisers in Copenhagen.

Speakers are giving inspiring speeches to warm up demonstrators on the stage before the rally officially begins. Helena Christensen, a Danish-Peruvian model and photographer, Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director, Rahul Bose, a Bollywood actor and Global Ambassador for Oxfam, and Vandana Shiva, an eco feminist, delivered the most memorable speeches. Around 2 p.m. The rally began by moving across the bridge from Parliament Square.

At Nyhavn port, not far from the bridge, I see the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, which has been anchored in Copenhagen since the start of the Climate Summit as part of the larger Greenpeace family to help push the delegates to reach a legally binding agreement, which is desperately needed. On board, a large banner read, “Politicians Talk, Leaders Act.”

From the bridge, I continue walking, dancing, and holding a “Climate Justice NOW” placard with the Samba Drums gang to the Chistainia area. The march is gaining momentum. Then gradually move to Tingvij/Frankrigsgade. The sky is already dark when the first leg of the rally arrives in Sundby, where I notice a 1 Megawatt wind turbine operating behind the Bella Center.

Outside the Bella Center, the stage cut across the road. “It is wonderful to see a human sea of light bringing a message of hope and solidarity, most of the people in the room stopped talking and came out to see it on the screen,” writes Wanun Permpiboon, a Thai activist who has been assisting the Thai Negotiating Team inside the Bella Center.

Thai activists, along with other groups, are taking part in the rally. They claimed the other day that the front-row rally was moving so quickly that it created enough space for police to “seal-off” some protesters from the march. Several hundred activists are arrested by police that day.

While the on-stage speakers make their way to the Bella Center to hand over the ship sails to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo De Boer, all Greenpeace volunteers board a bus bound for the warehouse for a debrief.

Following the debrief, I take the Greenpeace inflatable from the warehouse to where the Arctic Sunrise is anchored, and then the bus to Danhostel Bellahoj. Topsi, who was staying at the warehouse with the other 200 volunteers, sent a short message saying, “Samba Drums begin playing now for volunteer party.” As a result, I miss the best part.

BELLA CENTER

December 17, 2009

Late Sunday morning, Penchom Tang and Kingkorn Narinthon Na Ayutthaya- Thai Working Group for Climate Justice colleagues ask me to assist in transporting Thai community leaders to Climate Justice Now’s “Hit the Production” action. As the global shipping industry is at the heart of capitalism, a key symbol of an industrial System based on growth and the use of fossil fuels, the “Hit the Production” action will target the harbour with a mass blockade.

“Sure,” I replied.

Later, the plan is abandoned because it is too dangerous, and arrests of Thai community members are possible. Furthermore, none of them are capable of preparing to be outside in extremely cold weather. Thai community leaders will then meet with Thailand’s Environment Minister, Khun Suvit Khunkitti, who is already in town before Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva arrives.

Thai civil society representatives met with PM Abhisit in Bangkok previously and have already submitted recommendations on the Thai Government’s positions toward the Copenhagen climate summit, as well as related national policy formulation. The truth is that the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations will increase the burden on Thailand, Thai citizens, and the community to deal with the climate crisis that is already occurring due to ill-advised policy.

Our meeting place is the Klima Forum. I walk to the Marriott Hotel, where the Environment Minister is staying, with 7 community leaders from the Northern, Eastern, North-eastern, Central, and Southern parts of Thailand, as well as 5 Thai activists. We greet and communicate with him in the hotel lobby. The main topic of discussion has been the Thai government’s position in relation to the outcome of the negotiations here in Copenhagen.

“We are aware that our recommendation paper will not be recognised, despite the fact that it has already been delivered directly to the Prime Minister. To ensure that our voices are heard, it was a good idea to contact Khun Suvit, and it would be even better if we could meet with PM Abhisit here,” said a Thai community leaders.

According to the summary outcome of the Thai Cabinet meeting on mitigation on the 10th of November 2009, Thailand is standing for 1) “legally binding commitment” for developed countries based on economic-wide reduction commitment for second commitment period (2013-1017) and by 2020 taking into account historical responsibility, national capacity in measurable, reportable, and verifiable manner. 2) “Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action” for developing countries on a voluntary basis, with financial flow, technology transfer, and capacity building supported by developed countries.

Thailand has clearly expressed a desire to keep the spirit of Kyoto alive. However, it is a big question mark because negotiations are moving slowly and some controversies are being raised here in Copenhagen, such as proposals to allow money from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to be used for nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS). These controversies persisted even among the G77 group.

According to the Thai Negotiating Team, some delegates are from industry (the Federation of Thai Industry and the Thai Petroleum Authority), and civil society has frequently raised the issue of participatory process in this regard. How does Thailand’s industry fit in? How about the civil society? The answer we have is that because industry is a key stakeholder, they must play a key role in climate negotiations.

Isn’t it true that all multilateral environmental agreement negotiations should be for the benefit of the entire country and its people, not for corporate greed?

At COP15, I learn how the negotiation process works and how important civil society participation in all aspects is in keeping our own government and politicians on track. The more open the debate over climate change becomes among ordinary Thais, the better the Thai negotiating team will be able to deliver in a more transparent and democratic manner.

The beginning of the second week of negotiations reveals that a large number of INGOs/NGOs will be denied access to the Bella Center. Several thousand NGOs and civil society members are viewed as too disruptive to the UNFCCC negotiation process.

Following the withdrawal of developing countries led by the African group, word spread throughout the centre. Combined with a suspension imposed by the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, which insists on full debate of proposals to amend the UN Climate Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

“It has become clear that the Danish presidency is advancing developed-country interests at the expense of the balance of obligations between developed and developing countries. According to BBC news, “the mistake they are making now has reached levels that cannot be tolerated from a president who is supposed to be acting and shepherding the process on behalf of all parties.”

I pass through the area where Environment Minister Suvit Khunkitti is standing with the rest of his team and am greeted by one of his advisors. According to a Thai NGOs activists, he is also walking out and supporting the African group’s position.

This is supposed to be my last bit to track the Thai negotiating team from within. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get the second badge. I speak with Yuyun Greenpeace’s Southeast Asian political team, and he smiles, “I am more than happy not to get the second badge, I want to get out of here!!!”

FLOPENHAGEN

December 18, 2009

“We want Copenhagen to not be remembered as a ‘Flopenhagen’, we want a Hopenhagen.”

That is the final remark made by Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director, at a side event on the first day of the COP15 to demand a Fair, Ambitious, and Binding deal from Danish Prime Minister Lars Lkke Rasmussen.

Everywhere I go in Denmark’s capital, on the bus, train, metro, billboard, and in the newspaper, I see eye-catching advertisements for “Hopenhagen.” It is created as a meme to demonstrate Copenhageners’ engagement with climate change and the global call to action during a two-week climate summit.

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

“Hopenhagen” is among hundreds of official COP15 cultural events, including indoor and outdoor exhibitions, designs, crafts, architectures, galleries, art projects, films, songs, and many more, which can be found at http://www.cop15culture.com.

At one point, after the global day of climate action on Saturday, December 12, 2009, which has gone down in Danish history as the largest peaceful demonstration, I am wondering how COP15 and these related events will have the greatest political, social, and cultural impact on people here in Denmark.

Ironically, I can return to that question when, while looking at a “Hopenhagen” advertisement poster at a Coca Cola-sponsored bus stop, the letter “S” was written down and read “Shopenhagen”!!! Another one, sponsored by Siemens, had a short sentence that said, “Our climate, not your business!”

“I got on the COP15 bus at midnight from Bella Center to my place and heard the bus driver complain about how bad it was because troublemakers from all over the world were here!!!!” “So I look at myself, oh well, I am one of them,” Wanun Permpiboon, who was also on the bus and has been assisting the Thai negotiating team on adaptation text with G77 parties, said.

After the UNFCCC restricted NGOs and civil society participants from entering the Bella Center, “Hopenhagen” became “Flopenhagen.” While my roommates, one from Kenya and another from Kiribati, are resting on their beds, frustrated because they were unable to enter the meeting, I see myself running around at Klima Forum-the People Summit, catching up with NGOs colleagues.

The big idea of a Copenhagen treaty (based on the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol) to replace the Kyoto treaty is already in jeopardy, as the Danish Prime Minister ruled it out even before the conference began. Even climate celebrities, such as former Vice President Al Gore, were speaking of a watered-down climate deal – NOT WHAT THE WORLD WANTS AND NEEDS. “…At Copenhagen, we need to have a binding political agreement that the major countries – both developed and developing – sign on to,” he said in an interview with the Danish newspaper Politiken.

If it is true that world leaders agree that a legally binding climate agreement appears to be out of reach this year in Copenhagen, Al Gore is no better than other politicians who seek the path of least resistance rather than what science and people demand. His message in Copenhagen was truly revolting.

My Thai colleague Topsi and I are also delighted to meet Sven Teske, the legendary leader of Greenpeace’s [e]nergy revolution. We ask him to stop by the Arctic Sunrise for a hot meal to keep the cold Copenhagen winter at bay – spicy Thai noodles – and a couple of cheap beers arranged by a Thai volunteer and the crew on board.

“I want to remove the bracket from “E” in our next energy revolution report,” Sven explained. “I believe our European Renewable Energy Council-EREC partners will agree.”

“Do you have anything to say about the ongoing negotiations inside Bella Center?” I inquire.

Sven informs me that the next mission on the energy revolution will be to create a 350 ppm scenario (keep global temperature 1.5 degree limit). “Then that’s all I need.”

We exit the subway at Chistianhavn Station and walk across the bridge toward the Arctic Sunrise. We flop in there because she is our true “Hopenhagen.”

CRACKDOWN

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now activists plan to enter the COP15 venue and stage a “People’s Assembly” on December 16, despite the fact that access has been severely restricted. The Bella Center Metro station has been closed. Around the area, more barricades and a defensive wall were erected.

Thai community members get up very early in the morning to join the rally, which begins in the Sundby area. Khun Srisuwan Khaunkajorn, a senior Thai activist, and I are expected to join them in front of the Bella Center. We took the S train from Central Station to Orestad Station and then walked from there. All delegates have only access to the COP15 venue.

At noon, I run into Emmy Hafild, the former Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, who is hurrying out of the building.

“Hi Tara, nice to see you again,” Emmy said. I met her two days ago inside Bella Center. She received the pink badge representing the Indonesian delegate. She is about to leave for Jakarta, saying, “I have to go home now.”

Emmy used two words to describe what is going on inside the COP15: “chaos” and “disaster.”

“When the marchers arrive at the Bella Center, the police give a warning via a megaphone in English and a few other European languages that I do not understand. Despite the fact that our activists have indicated that they will not attempt to enter the conference venue and will instead stage a gathering outside, the police squad has chosen to break up the demonstration.” Note from Penchom Tang, a member of the Thai Working Group for Climate Justice who joined other Thai activists at the rally.

“Front-line demonstrators are then pepper-sprayed and beaten with batons. Some attempted to cross a canal surrounding the venue by scaling fences, climbing over police vans, and even using flotation devices.” Penchom continued.

I’m being stopped by police as I try to follow a few hundred delegates marching out of the Bella Center to join the demonstration.

By early afternoon, the situation had calmed down, and we were able to contact the Thai team in the field to ensure their safety. Approximately 230 people were arrested.

“Thai activists are safe,” Khun Srisuwan said after learning that they had returned to their temporary residence, a stadium outside of Copenhagen.

By Thursday, access has become more restricted, with no more than 1,000 civil society representatives permitted in the Bella Center, and only 90 allowed on the final day of the conference.

As Connie Hedegaard has already resigned from the UNFCCC, a group of 50 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have written an open letter to executive secretary Yvo de Boer and COP15 president Lars Lkke Rasmussen.

The letter said

“It is intolerable that civil society observers be restricted in this forum, and we hope that the UNFCCC Secretariat recognises and reverses this undemocratic action. The UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol negotiations have a huge and growing impact on the lives of ordinary people all over the world. Their participation in the climate negotiations as members of civil society is critical to ensuring that the Copenhagen outcomes are both just and effective,” according to the letter. It claims that the proposed restrictions violate the law’s requirement for public participation in the negotiations. If civil society voices are marginalised now, they will be marginalized in the final outcome.”

I call Wanun Permpiboon, who got the pink badge, while she is still inside the Bella Center. “If you have a pink badge, you can enter; however, to enter the plenary, you must have a “gold card” badge and a “platinum card” badge for Friday.” She enthusiastically explains.

RED CARPET, SPEECHES, AND DEBATE

Since Wednesday night, it has been snowing. The entire Copenhagen landscape has turned white. I’m on the bus no. 250S to Gladsaxe Stadium, just outside Copenhagen’s city centre, with Khun Amarit (Mum), a news reporter from Thailand’s Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS), who arrived here last Saturday to document and report back home.

Photo by Topsi

On Thursday night, Kilma Forum and Øksnehallen – the new gathering place for civil society and NGOs – are packed. I decide to return to a stadium with Khun Amarit because it is too cold to stay until the end of the event.

The majority of the heads of state have arrived in the evening, and the Queen’s Gala Dinner at Christainsborg Slot is about to begin.

Watching a COP15 news report from a Danish TV channel in the kitchen area of Gladsaxe Statdium’s dormitory, I am very excited to see that a Greenpeace convoy with a fictitious head of state made it to the red carpet at the queen’s gala dinner!!!! And banners proclaiming, ‘Politicians talk, Leaders Act.’

It had been playing over and over on that TV channel.

The Queen of Denmark delivers her keynote address at the Gala Dinner live on TV, saying, “…it is our hope, the driver in the tomorrow as you leave Copenhagen, you have achieved positive and convincing results as an outcome of the COP15 conference.” I wish you the very best of luck.”

Aside from red carpet Heads of State action, there is live debate on that TV channel where the moderator is asking questions to Debaters – Kavin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister, Ms. Buyelwa Sonjica, South African Environment Minister, Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, Felipe de Jes Calderón Hinojosa, President of Mexico and EU representative – as well as invited audiences to take the floor. One of the attendees was Kumi Naidoo, the International Executive Director of Greenpeace, who spoke about the importance of a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement.

Another audience member who takes the floor is Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aiping, Chief Negotiator of the Group of 77, who refers to Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s letter to all leaders, which says – better no deal than bad deal-. “The fundamentals of this deal are extremely flawed,” he concluded.

Then, quickly, Mohamed Nasheed adds, “We are in the G77, and we want an agreement from Copenhagen, and we do not agree with that viewpoint at all.” We must reach an agreement. There are numerous blocs, many of which are obsolete and outdated, dating back to the cold war. We each have a unique set of problems. This negotiation is not concerned with the outcome.”

The moderator also asked Kavin Rudd to respond to the question “It is fair to say there will not be a full complete international binding treaty in Copenhagen, so what next?”

“…it’s just one part,” Kevin Rudd said of pledges from the United States and other developed countries to assist poor countries in coping with and adapting to climate change. “Regardless of how far we go, there will be a lot to do in the next round of talks. I believe we can close the deal under the chairmanship of Felipe de Jess Calderón Hinojosa.”

Moderator asked Mexico’s President, “Do you think you’ll be hosting a meeting like this in Mexico a year from now?”

“I hope it’s different,” says Calderón.

The moderator then asks, “Should world leaders stay in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement, or should they leave for Mexico a year from now?”

“We need to do anything in a couple of days in order to reach an agreement; in any case, what we want to do after Copenhagen is to start a new negotiating process in order to reach a binding treaty. We are going to ask anyone, American or Chinese, to put their cards on the table in order to reach an agreement. This is the only world we have, and we don’t have much time left,” Calderón concludes.

Ms. Buyelwa Sonjica, South African Environment Minister, is then asked by the moderator, “From an African perspective, should we hammer it now or regroup in Mexico?”

“Legally binding is possible here in Copenhagen; it just takes leadership to achieve that kind of result,” Buyelwa emphasised.

The same question was put to the EU representative, who stated, “We need an agreement now.” We need to pass legislation within the next six months. In the EU, we already have a progressive legally binding treaty. We won’t be able to agree on financing unless we reach an agreement now. We must take immediate action. We don’t have a lot of time.”

Mohamed Nasheed provides the final response. “World leaders are capable of reaching an agreement in Copenhagen. It is still possible that it will occur tomorrow. We can’t hope for a deal with Mexico. It will continue indefinitely.”

It’s a fantastic TV debate, in my opinion.

On the top line message that is being distributed via the email list;

“Industrialised countries have brought climate talks to the brink of collapse by refusing to accept deeper greenhouse gas emissions cuts or provide adequate funding for developing country action and adaptation.

Anger over this failure to take the lead has led to developing countries suspending work on several occasions and created divisions between the vulnerable countries who are fighting for their survival and the emerging economies who want to hold industrialized countries to account but are afraid they themselves will be unfairly forced to take legally binding targets.

World leaders arriving in Copenhagen, especially Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy and Brown must take control of this shambolic situation. They must lead and deliver us a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal to avert climate chaos.”

LEADERSHIP CRISIS

Photo Credit : Tara Buakamsri

Friday late evening is bitterly cold. I exit Oksnehallen Hall and proceed to City Hall Square. Greenpeace organises the “climate shame” photo shoot at Oksnehallen Hall in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district – the alternative venue provided by the Danish Foreign Minister in response to the Bella Center’s restricted access. It has television connections to the Bella Center until the end of COP15.

It’s a long walk from City Hall Square (Radhuspladsen) to the end of Kongens Nytorv shopping street – I end up at “100 places to remember before they disappear,” an outdoor photo exhibition hosted by CO+Life and CARE Denmark that shows 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 photo exhibition is set against a large billboard on the European Environmental Agency’s building that reads “Bend the Trend!”

The graph on the billboard captures the Copenhagen Climate Summit as a historical event. It depicts an increase in GHG emissions and average global temperatures from 1970 to 2050. In the centre 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 far below 2 degrees Celsius – the safe level scientists say will prevent dangerous climate change.

I understand why it’s called “Bend the Trend,” and I’m wondering 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…”

I see a well-known floating market at the outdoor photo exhibition.

Yes, Bangkok, where I live, is one of a hundred places to remember before they vanish!!! – the photo title read “the Sinking City of Angles.” The photo is not of Bangkok, but of “Samut Sakhon” or “Samut Songkram,” two provinces close to Bangkok.

In the photo caption ;

“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 continues to drop, I am becoming increasingly cold. I’m wondering, “How can I make a difference here?” The outcome of the Bella Center negotiations is expected to be extremely disappointing. What I took away from Copenhagen was a sense of rage. Yes, I am honoured to be a part of this historic global day of climate action. However, the Copenhagen climate talks do not promise to “Bend the Trend” or “Seal the Deal.”

I just want to reiterate what the Maldives’ President said: “You cannot bargain with mother nature.” I am a firm believer that when we are on the verge of environmental destruction or in the midst of a climate crisis, we as humans have the ability to transform the crisis into an opportunity.

Even if no FAB climate deal emerges from Copenhagen, the climate movement of ordinary people continues and grows. I’m not going down without a fight.

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