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December 08th 2009 print

Tim Wilson

COP15 Opening Ceremony

Anyone sceptical of the UN system or the science of climate change never made it into the opening ceremony under the gaze of the world’s media. Instead their voices were sent to the other end of the conference centre out of sight, and out of mind.

From Copenhagen:

It is hard not to be cynical about the UN Climate Change Conference that opened in Copenhagen, Denmark today.

The opening ceremony to the 15th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP15, opened at the Bella Conference Centre with a video presentation visually demonstrating the looming fate of the world if tough action wasn’t taken to cut emissions from floods and droughts to hurricanes; and concluded with young children asking negotiators and political leaders to “please help save the world”.

And saving the world was clearly on the agenda of the first two speakers – Danish Prime Minister, Lars Rasmussen, and the Mayor of the City of Copenhagen, Ritt Bjerregaard.

Rasmussen didn’t hold back making it clear he was committed to rhetorical flutter by seeking “a strong and ambitious climate change agreement” and “an agreement for effective global solutions”. But he avoided boring the meeting with details. After all he’ll have a busy work schedule over the next two weeks hosting the one hundred and ten world leaders who’ll come to Copenhagen to either share the credit of an agreement or pass the blame for its failure.

Bjerrgaard is following in Rasmussen’s footsteps by hosting seventy leaders of major local governments. She’s also taken onto Copenhagen’s shoulders the responsibility to save the world by renaming the City as ‘Hopenhagen’ for the next fortnight.

Their speeches might have been pointless, but at least they were welcoming.

By comparison the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachuari, used his speech to attack climate sceptics who were fuelling doubt on the science of climate change.

And he directly responded to the exposure of data and emails from the British Hadley Centre by attacking those who “would go the extent of engaging illegal acts, perhaps to discredit the IPCC”.

Pachuari was clearly annoyed that his immediately preceding seven metre sea level rise claim unless a new agreement to cut emissions may be open to scrutiny. But Pachuari was trumped by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, who read out a story of climate-induced rain, strong winds and floods and that that a Copenhagen agreement would “prevent” them occurring.

De Boer also outlined his “Christmas cake” structured Copenhagen deal including:

  • The foundation layer of an “agreement to prompt implementation of action on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and capacity building.
  • The second layer including “ambitious reduction commitments and actions … (which) also includes commitments to start up finance in the order of $10 billion per year, as well as long term finance”.
  • Iced with “a shared vision on long-term cooperative action on climate change and a long term goal”.

But rather than calling it a Christmas cake, he should probably call it a Christmas wish list because it is the job of countries, not the UNFCCC Secretariat to decide what should be in any deal.

The ceremony was book ended with rapturous applause, but like most of the debate leading up to this conference the applause was false.

Despite the main plenary hall that housed the opening ceremony being the largest in the conference centre, organisers had to reasonably ration attendance with more than fifteen thousand registered delegates.

But rather than admission on a first come, first served basis tickets were issued to “constituent groups” which included large NGO delegations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund, or social justice movements like indigenous people’s forums.

The consequence was that anyone sceptical of the UN system or the science of climate change never made it into the opening ceremony under the gaze of the world’s media. Instead their voices were sent to the other end of the conference centre out of sight, and out of mind.

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

Tim Wilson’s videos are here