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December 11th 2009 print

Tim Wilson

COP15: Day 4

Like the debate about climate change in Australia, symbolism over substance is triumphing in Copenhagen and the pledge to make the conference carbon neutral is looking decidedly hard to deliver.

Like the debate about climate change in Australia, symbolism over substance is triumphing in Copenhagen and the pledge to make the conference carbon neutral is looking decidedly hard to deliver.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has reported that 140 private jets are expected by organisers over the conference fortnight, and 1,200 limousines are being used throughout the two weeks of the Conference. The demand for limousines from climate change negotiators is so large that companies have had to drive them from Sweden and Germany because Denmark is under-supplied.

Meanwhile this video clip from US Centre for American Progress shows the free shuttle bus between the conference centre and the airport is empty.

However, on registration delegates were provided with a free public transport ticket and the train to the conference centre is full … most of the time. And no doubt some are using the train for the entertainment at the Bella Centre Train Station.

As delegates arrive vegans for climate change, led by Supreme Master Ching Hai (www.suprememaster.tv), are handing out information about the low-carbon impact of veganism. Just to prove her empathy for animals the Supreme Master’s go-vegan-for-the-climate activists are handing out free hard cover copies of her books The birds in my life (which was apparently a best-seller on Amazon) and The dogs in my life. Neither book states whether they are carbon neutral.

Conference organisers may have taken inspiration from the Supreme Master because two-thirds of conference centre food is organic.  But there’s no explanation in the conference guide book about whether organic food’s use of more resources to produce less is good for the emissions reduction.

But the Supreme Master’s influence hasn’t extended too far because meat is still on the menu.

Beyond the circuses inside and out, the negotiations remain in deadlock with rich countries demanding developing countries take on more of the responsibility to cut emissions, and vice versa.

Over dinner last night I was chatting to a Swiss University student who made the point that there were a lot of people shouting about what they wanted at this conference, but no one seemed to be listening. It is a good analogy for the behaviour of the negotiations.

The lack of negotiating progress is partly a consequence of little political weight that can be provided by officials who are simply postulating for the media and to other delegations to prove they’re serious for an internationally legally binding emissions reduction cuts if you’re Tuvalu, a second emissions reduction period under Kyoto Protocol if you’re Europe, or that the science of climate change isn’t settled if you’re the Gulf States.

But the arrival of Climate Change Ministers in the lead up to the weekend will bring more flexibility to the negotiations than can be offered through mid-level bureaucrats. The job of Climate Ministers will be to push negotiations to a point where the one hundred and ten Heads of Government and States can sign a final document when they arrive at the end of next week. This means Ministers have a lot of sleepless nights ahead.

But the weekend also offers officials an opportunity with fewer observer delegates breathing down their necks.

The number of non government observers exceeds government delegates by two-to-one and they’re running amok.

Green non-government observers can basically be broken up into two groups. The first are the pack leaders who actually understand what is being negotiated and are seeking to influence the outcomes. The second are the pawns who make up numbers when there is an urgent need for one hundred people all dressed in orange t-shirts that say “How old will you be in 2050?" for stunts that make good television.

Over the weekend the pawns will be playing with Danish Police when they leave the isolated Bella Conference Centre for organised demonstrations and protests in the centre of Copenhagen. Like all demonstrations the organisers are declaring them "peaceful", but my tip is to take a helmet because hell hath no scorn like an angry climate activist who wants a legally binding international treaty delivering global emission cuts.

Tim Wilson is Director of the Climate and Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs and is blogging from Copenhagen at www.sustainabledev.org.

See Tim Wilson’s previous reports:

COP15: Opening Ceremony

COP15: Day 2

COP15: Day 3