SCCS blog from Copenhagen climate change negotiations - week 1

Week one at the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen

Sam Gardner and Richard Dixon represent SCCS at the Copenhagen conference

DAY Seven - by Dr Richard Dixon -Sunday 13th December 2009

It was great to meet a number of familiar faces again, once I had been through the long queue for registration at the Bella Centre yesterday. There was some optimism around and even the EU managed to sound upbeat after winning a Fossil of the Day yesterday for their apparent lack of ambition.

At their press conference they said a 2 degree deal was still in their sights, and called on the US and China to do more so that the EU could deliver on its promise to up their target to 30 per cent. They have even started talking about keeping the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, something more than half the UN countries now support.

They also told us to expect much more when the ministers get down to work.

Another person it was great to see was John Elliot from the Borders. I first met him 9 years ago when he came to help build a sandbag dyke around the UN climate conference centre in the Hague. Now 75 he came with Friends of the Earth Scotland to join the huge march through Copenhagen to the Bella Center. He was his usual cheery self despite having had no sleep because his coach was held at the German border for three and a half hours in the night.

The march from central Copenhagen was great, with 100,000 people ending up at a torch-lit rally. We had the usual environmental and development groups as well as colourful Tibetans, militant vegetarians, trades unions, faith groups, several inflatable planets, a giant snowman and of course the rather naughty anarchists.

Together with other marches around the world yesterday and last week’s events in Glasgow, Belfast and London, there can be no doubt that world leaders will know that people expect real results when they turn up here at the end of the week.

Finally, a big thank you to Sam, heading back now by train and ferry, for doing an excellent job of making sense of his first UN climate conference.

 

DAY Six - by Dr Sam Gardner - Saturday 12th December 2009

Over the two weeks of this conference Copenhagen has been renamed Hopenhagen. Everywhere you go the signs and banners hang from buildings or wrap around buses. Hope though does not leap from advertising banners but must have foundations in the actions of leaders. As this conference progresses huge steps need to be made if this word is to resonate with the millions whose lives are threatened by climate change.

Progress here is hard to track and comes in fits and starts. Friday was marked by disappointment in the outcome of the EU Council meeting – a conclusion that did not go ignored in the conference hall and a flurry of new texts from key working groups and country groups. From amongst these papers there must emerge the strong legally binding deal that puts the world on the path to a safe climate. One such paper, from the Alliance of Small Island States , describes the fair and ambitious deal that Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and civic society across the world have been calling for. Hope can be given meaning if this vision is embraced by all parties.

Sadly, the EU Council missed a major opportunity to inject some real momentum into the talks. Their meeting failed to raise their feeble emissions reduction target, neglected to address major loopholes in those same feeble targets, and for the most part rebadged existing aid to developing countries as a new climate fund. This absence of global leadership saw them awarded a ‘Fossil of the Day Award’.

All around the conference centre NGO activists are proudly wearing t-shirts asking "how old will you be in 2050?". The message is clear - today’s leaders must act now if the children of today are to enjoy the safe environment they have had. It was with this message in the back of my mind that I joined a colleague from Oxfam to talk via the internet to over 30 schools across Scotland.

Their understanding and commitment to their environment shames the feeble ambition show by the rich nations here in Copenhagen. The questions they asked were heavy with their concern for people and wildlife around the world and while their understanding on climate change is impressive it is not right that we can only find the ambition so needed from our leaders in our children.

Responsibility for climate change falls now, today, on the leaders of the developed world and they should heed the calls from children who can see the future better than they can.

ECO Cop15 newsletter for 12th Dec

 

DAY Five - by Dr Sam Gardner - Friday 11th December 2009

Yesterday Copenhagen replaced Tiger Woods as the world's number one search query on Google. If interest in these negotiations can knock the global fascination with the personal life of a (albeit amazingly talented) golfer from the top of the pile then maybe the world will not allow a these talks to fail.

Around the world communities are preparing for a massive day of global action this Saturday. The thousands who marched in Scotland last week helped kick-off this global gathering. This weekend some of the very same people I proudly marched with at the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland event in Glasgow will be here in Copenhagen to again show support for a strong deal.

Inside the COP there is an ever growing number of folk sporting badges and lanyards saying "Scotland 42 per cent by 2020". We’ve started handing these out to people who are always thrilled to hear of Scotland’s ambition and immediately put them on with pride. Scotland’s ambition is being heard and in some small way we are playing a part in moving things forward. Yesterday in Holyrood, I hear that the very same badges were being worn by MSPs during a motions debate.

Back in Copenhagen UN chief, Ban Ki Moon, has spoken of the need to build the trust between nations if the conference is to succeed. This means rich countries committing to reduce their emissions by at least 40 per cent and committing to the long term finance that developing nations need to protect them from the climate impacts we have caused.

There was an encouraging statement from the French today that may go some way to tackling this deficit. They have proposed ending the current perverse accounting of emissions from land use and forestry supported by the EU. We wait to see if the EU will follow this lead and close this huge loophole. If they do so they will give this conference a much needed shot of positive energy.

He may not thank me for doing so but I have to take this opportunity to tell you that Mike Robinson, Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland joined Susan Boyle in being recognized by the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards. Not for his singing talents mind you, but for his massive contribution to the environment sector. So, if Susan Boyle is SuBo, does that make him MiRo?

 

DAY FOUR by Dr Sam Gardner - Thursday 10th December 2009

It’s perhaps a sign of man's ability to adapt to new environments that having only been in the COP15 world for less than 24 hours I’m now striding about as if I’ve been hear for days. Rushing from one plenary meeting to a side event and onto a press conference, only pausing to top up my bottle of water (it’s thirsty work) or grab an apple from the guy selling them from his bike.

One of the highlights of Wednesday was going to be a side event entitled ‘Economics of Baldness’. At least it was until I looked closer and saw it was the slightly less provocative ‘Economics of Boldness’. I don’t know who attended this, but the message should have been those at the forefront of a new low-carbon economy will be first to stake a claim to the dominant economy of the future. It pays to be bold and lead the way, especially when the status quo is so clearly redundant.

The current EU target of just 20 per cent was exposed for what it really is today at the WWF press conference - an abdication of responsibility and leadership that actually requires them to slow down the current rate of emissions reductions. Indeed the EU’s own internal analysis shows that it would have to make less effort than the often derided ‘provisional’ figures from the United States. After much talk of going all out to the get the strongest possible deal in Copenhagen the UK needs to up its ambition at the European Council to secure the 40 per cent commitment a safe climate demands.

While the EU stalls the islands of Tuvalu, supported by other members of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), were arguing for the opportunity to pursue the route to a legally binding conclusion that their very survival depends on. Their call for what’s called a Contact Group was blocked by others and until all the parties have resolved how to go forward the Conference of the Parties is suspended.

While this might sound terribly procedural and process-like the situation was given some real vocal clarity by some hundred or so campaigners outside the plenary chanting: “Listen to the islands. Tuvalu, Tuvalu, survival, survival”.

Nobody should forget that the diplomatic words spoken in these huge plenary sessions and the behind the closed doors will determine the survival of entire nations and destroy the environments on which many more depend.

This building, devoid of windows, surrounded by construction sites and apartment blocks will need to make a connection to the living, breathing diversity of life outside if it is to succeed.

ECO Cop15 newsletter for 10th Dec

 

DAY THREE - by Dr Sam Gardner - Wednesday 9th December 2009

My first encounter with Copenhagen public transport was slightly surreal. It turned out my driver was a big fan of Take That and my first trip to the other world that is the conference centre was accompanied by him and Gary Barlow blaring out of the radio. Not really the soundtrack I would have chosen to play over my introduction to the beast that is COP15 .

So, my first impressions of the Bella Centre? Well, you know you’ve arrived when you see the inflatable globes, the first of which is intended to represent what one tonne of CO2 looks like. Immediately after the ‘tonne of CO2’ and now free from Take That you walk under a turbine blade and straight into a very long queue. A very, very long queue.

Two and a half hours later, having been searched and photographed you are granted entry into conference centre itself.

It's hard to convey the peculiar atmosphere of the place. In building devoid of atmosphere by design (or so it would appear) thousands of people have created an energy that rolls around the building. Cavernous halls are filled with cafes, plenary rooms, camera crews, side rooms, computer banks, exhibition stands, delegate offices, media centres, more cafes, NGO campaign stunts, teleconference suites and far more. Everywhere folk are huddled round laptops or sat in circles having some impromptu strategy meeting, or running from one event to another or craning to get into a packed fringe event to see the latest scientific projections of climate impacts on, for example, water availability in the United States.

Amongst all this organised chaos NGOs such as WWF go about their business pushing for that elusive FAB (Fair, Ambitious and Binding) deal. This means rejecting the special interest pleading from dinosaurs in the EU business lobby, bringing clarity to the multiple interpretations of the various reduction commitments from different countries, exposing the emissions accounting trickery that threaten to create huge loop-holes in targets and describing the plan from the Danish Presidency
for what it is; ‘too elitist, selective and non transparent’.

There is clearly far more to do here than there are hours in the day. Meetings ignore any normal working hours and roll onwards into the night. But, from the looks of it, I guess that is what it is going to take.

ECO Cop15 newsletter for 9th Dec

 

DAY TWO - by Dr Sam Gardner - Tuesday 8th December 2009

OK, I’m getting closer. Honest.

And by the time you read this I should have completed stage six of my seven part journey and be stepping off a sleeper train in the centre of Copenhagen - right in the heart of the action.

Yesterday (Monday 7) was the opening day of the conference and given the collective level of rhetoric it’s hard to keep expectations in check. History has shown though that a true climate deal is the most elusive of global agreements. However, this has got to be it. No more selling the ambition short, no more deliberate and oh so selfish and short-sighted stalling to protect oil interests (Saudi Arabia) or tar sand concessions (Canada). The world has waited far too long for this moment and will wait no longer. Sadly, the world’s climate system pays no heed to the weight of words and papers from the UN. They only respond to those actions that actually curb our burning of fossil fuels. This deal must make those actions a reality.

Perhaps one of the most powerful statements of the day came not from a politician but from the 56 different newspapers from around the world all carrying the same editorial. In Russian, Chinese and Arabic and from the Miami Herald to the Gulf Times in Qatar they all carried the same message:

We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest failure of modern politics.

Although a momentum is finally starting to build behind these talks, there is also a mountain to climb if any outcome is to be described as a success by those living in fear of a climate running out of control. Make no mistake this will be a roller coaster ride.

The Danes have their much touted ‘political fudge’ option on the table while India, China, Brazil and South Africa are presenting a powerful rejection of any such plans. Some members of the G77 and China are showing some signs of backing the position of those most at threat from dangerous climate change - the Alliance of Small Island States. Meanwhile, President Obama’s decision to attend the conference during the critical second week have upped the ante as well as heightened the risk of greenwash.

And with the thought of late night negotiations now firmly fixed in my mind, I sort of already know that the sleeper train will probably be the last opportunity I have of a decent night’s sleep for the next two weeks.

ECO Cop15 newsletter for 8th Dec

 

DAY ONE by Dr Sam Gardner - Monday 7th December 2009

Right now, assuming part two of my seven-part journey has gone to plan, I should have eaten a hearty breakfast and now be preparing to disembark from a ferry. If not, then I'm hoping the restaurant doesn't run out of food as I bob around somewhere in the middle of the North Sea.

But, I'm full of confidence that by the wonders of train, ferry, bus and metro I'll soon be in Copenhagen - a city famed for its fine style as well as its amazing public transport and cycling network. It may, over the course of the next two weeks, also write its name into the history books as the city where the world finally woke up to the urgency of climate change, where governments ditched short-term self interest and the world was put on the path to a safe future for all.

Over the next fortnight, Copenhagen will host the world's biggest climate gathering. If size were a measure of success then the strong deal we need to see from these talks would be in the bag. Some 15,000 delegates plus a 5,000-strong press corps will also be joined by tens of thousands of concerned citizens who plan to descend on the Danish capital to try and make their voices heard.

The urgency of climate change is mobilising people in huge numbers across the world. No longer can western politicians excuse their dangerous hesitancy with a plea for public support for action. This call has been answered time and time again. The public mandate for action is explicit. Some 8,000 people braved a miserable day in Glasgow to make this call loud and clear. They were joined by over 30,000 in London and a further 15,000 in Brussels.

As I emerged out of a Glasgow underground station to join the march on Saturday the air was full of the sound of drums and trumpets from one of the many bands that lined the route.

As I waited at the junction to join my wife Emma and wee son Angus (not even 18 months and his second climate rally) I stretched to see where the front of the march was. But, it simply disappeared way off into the distance. Nor could I see the end of the march. This was a fantastic sight.

The Wave Scotland - climate change march, December 2009

Thousands had turned out from across Scotland and the streets were filled. Our fears that miserable weather, an early start and a Christmas shopping day would dampen the turnout turned out to just be wasted nervous energy.

Gail and everyone else in the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition involved in organising this huge event should be rightly proud. It's just a pity that the event had fallen foul of Glasgow Council's tough new policy on marches and had thus been prevented from going through the city centre. No matter though: folk hung out of windows and stood on balconies to cheer us on as we made our way to Kelvingrove. Half way round the route the whole march stopped for a mass Mexican Wave, made only slightly surreal by doing it partly under Scotland's busiest motorway - the M8.

Today (Monday 7th), sees the start of the first of many long days of negotiations. I’ll try and give you a sense of the inevitable rollercoaster ride and our efforts in promoting Scotland’s Climate Change Act as the best example of the level of ambition we need to see from world leaders. Armed with this world leading legislation, the memory of thousands marching and a crate of specially produced whisky to celebrate the 42% emissions reduction commitment made by the Scottish Parliament. I’m pretty confident that I’ll get folks attention. Let's just hope they get the message: a Fair, Ambitious and Binding (FAB!) deal is what we need to see if this is to be a success.

ECO Cop15 newsletter for 7th Dec

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