Not as expected

December 20, 2009

This week did not quite turn out as expected. Why? For one reason, despite taking place in Denmark – a rather well-run country – the organization of the conference was chaotic at best, and catastrophic at worst. On our arrival Monday afternoon, when we sprinted to the Bella Conference Center right after getting off the airplane, we were turned away by security with dozens of other people. No more registrations that day, we were told.

But it was the next day that was far beyond unbelievable. Knowing that we wouldn’t be the only ones wanting to enter the Bella, we left our hotel 5.40am only to find a queue of many hundreds if not thousands of people.

Endless freezing

After enduring a very, very long seven hours in freezing temperatures with other researchers, advocacy group members, officials from IOs… I finally made it inside the Center – just to spend another hour in line to pass security and receive the photo-badge. Luckily I had a “secondary pass”, the little card needed in addition in order to gain access – what a system… Had it not been for the Danish soldiers, serving coffee and tea and for the vegan activists handing out sandwiches the wait would have been unbearable. Once through the ordeal I first had to recover my strengths with a late lunch at very pleasant (body-thawing) room temperature.

Being already late in the afternoon at that point, I was excited to at least be able to conduct an interview with a representative from the German renewables industry. He went into detail about how the industry is organized and the channels it uses to influence policy. The basic statement: the industry is ready for a large-scale transformation towards renewables – all it needs is the right policy.

Inside, the enormous Center was organized in a series of areas. The exhibit area, where organizations of all sorts had set up information stands, was mostly abandoned at this time of the day, frustrating my objective of interviewing experts there. In the corridor towards the next area some activists dressed in black suits with black glasses were throwing fake $-bills with Sen. Inhofe’s face on them and speaking in a deep, sarcastic voice, denouncing coal industry lobbying. Past a café and the official documents desk emerged another area. In this huge nicely decorated hall, a flurry of delegates, journalists, NGO reps… were sitting and rushing around. One interesting sight was a politician being interviewed by a polar bear. Beyond that layed the main plenary, the enormous press center and the many, many work group, meeting and side event rooms. Although people were still only being let in very slowly, inside it didn’t feel crowded at all, although not empty either.

Also unexpected was the severe restriction of non-governmental badge carriers for the rest of the week. This category comprised not just all sorts of NGOs but also business reps, journalists (that didn’t get journalist accreditation) and researchers like us. The following day (Wed), I didn’t even head to the Bella, having heard that access was virtually impossible. For Thursday and Friday the number was reduced to a staggeringly tiny 300 – out of 25,000 accredited! This is unprecedented in UN conference history and was vehemently criticized by the NGOs. They saw it as a disrespect of the fundamental right of civil-society participation. (A side effect: influential non-govs, e.g. some businesses, being moved onto country-delegation lists to get in.) At least one positive thing can be seen in the overcrowdedness: The world has come to a point where climate change policy is an issue that does not fit in one conference center!

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