Blog / Dec. 16, 2009

Climate Chaos in Copenhagen - and that's just the talks

Blog from Global Witness Director, Patrick Alley

If the organisation of the climate talks in Copenhagen is anything to go by, even the best-intentioned negotiations would be lucky to succeed. Queues hundreds of metres long for registration can take up to eight hours to get through. I know - I was in one yesterday.

Over the last week campaign groups have been excluded from various meetings at a whim, but we're not alone- the head of the Brazilian delegation was barred by the heavy footed UN security from the plenary this morning. Now, all but a few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been excluded from the final - and most critical days of the conference - an indication of the lack of inclusion and transparency that has typified this process. This is particularly affronting given that NGOs have been absolutely instrumental in getting this process going and have been faithfully working on it for years. Earlier today a water cannon was drawn up outside as the singularly unfriendly Danish police beat and tear-gassed peaceful protestors.

Since late 2008, Global Witness has fielded a team of eight people focusing on getting the best possible deal on REDD - reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries - a mechanism to compensate developing countries for preserving their forests. In this we've worked alongside our colleagues in the Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA), an NGO coalition we co-founded at Poznan last year because we felt the highly productive early morning meetings we had on a brown sofa in an obscure corner of the conference centre had the makings of an effective force.

And so it's proven to be. Throughout 2009 the coalition has attended six UNFCCC meetings, around ten weeks in all, at Bonn, Bangkok, Barcelona and now here at the big one, COP15 in Copenhagen. In that time we've been fighting a rearguard action to get the language of a REDD agreement  to approach something that might preserve forests and protect the rights of forest dependent peoples - and of course reduce carbon emissions, rather than to be a money-making laissez passez to vested interests including the logging and plantation industries.

Seemingly every day the REDD text - the language pored over by the negotiators -goes from good to bad to good again. The coalition has been a driving force in getting safeguards included to protect natural forests and the rights of forest dependent peoples, and in pressing the need for good governance. After all, REDD could see upwards of $35 billion a year going to tropical forested countries notorious for poor governance and corruption. The original aspiration to halt gross deforestation by 2020 has been dropped, which is bad but not entirely surprising because other than Norway, the rich world hasn't put the money on the table that would encourage forested nations to put their patrimony on the line. In short, we've come a long way, we're not there yet, and there's still plenty to play for.

I'm writing this on Wednesday night and the text could change again by morning. It'll be harder for us to intervene as we'll be locked out, but we have made friends on the inside so we'll be keeping track. Watch this space.

Meanwhile my highlight quote of the day from Tuvalu's delegate in this morning's plenary: "We're on the Titanic....and we're having informal consultations on whether it's sinking or is sinking..."


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