Postcard from Copenhagen 1

December 11, 2009
Negotiations were just getting started this week when I had the opportunity to attend the UN Climate Change Conference or COP15 in Copenhagen.  Government delegates from 192 countries are taking part in official UN sponsored negotiations alongside dozens of side events that are scheduled in parallel for the hundreds of NGOs and other interest groups whose booths occupy an entire wing of the sprawling Bella Center, where the main conference is located between the airport and downtown Copenhagen.Other events are separated by some distance: the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) has events scheduled in a hotel a couple of miles away and Klimaforum09 or Peoples Climate Summit, is at yet another location, closer to downtown. The World Bank, which has been a focal point of debate over which institution should be charged with administering potential financial assistance to poor countries coping with the effects of climate change, has kept a relatively low profile; it has a small booth like every other organization and joined a side-event with other MDBs at the Opera House downtown.The range of humanity involved of all ages, nationalities and planet-saving causes was striking, each group seeking to shape the outcome of the negotiations, each pursuing a separate if complementary agenda. It was also fascinating to compare the blogs and news flow on the conference versus how activities look on the ground, which is much less dramatic -- more like an NGO trade show on one side and government negotiations on the other, with no visible connection between the two. (Representatives of the private sector, which is expected to mobilize the lion’s share of climate finance, seem to have almost no direct influence in the negotiations, according to one blog.)For many NGOs, the point of being in Copenhagen seems to be that everyone else is there. For some, the goal seems to be consciousness-raising while for policy-focused NGOs, the objective seems to be to ensure that specific language is included or remains in the official negotiating text. One NGO representative told me that to have influence their think-tank had to start pushing their ideas last January. Another told me that, besides circulating “non papers” on key issues, her NGO had representatives who also serve as official delegates in the negotiations for their respective countries’ governments.The numerous side-events also provided an opportunity to meet leading climate change experts, and also some accidental star-gazing. By chance I sat next to Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel laureate chair of the IPCC, for lunch on the first day. On the second day, at a talk on forest carbon, Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the Green Belt Movement, sat in the front row and asked what kind of REDD should we be pushing for?The question of whether and how to include forestry credits in a post-Kyoto treaty has been the focus of numerous side-events. On Thursday, unveiled a satellite monitoring tool that allows analysis of raw satellite imagery data and measurement of deforestation by implementing algorithms to identify deforestation and degradation very quickly using their thousands of servers. CGD’s Robin Kraft, who joined me at the conference, will present his an initial analysis of data from CGD's deforestation “alarm” system, Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) now available for Indonesia each month since the end of 2005, at an official side-event next Wednesday hosted by Resources for the Future.Everyone whom I have met who has been to a COP before tells me that things will “heat up” after the ministers arrive this weekend. It was not immediately clear how negotiations, which have reportedly proceeded at a “snail’s pace”, would accelerate enough to reach an agreement in time for the heads of state to sign at the end of next week. Things seemed to be moving backward on Tuesday when the UK’s Guardian published a leaked “Danish text” but by Friday the news seemed better, with the UK Prime Minister Brown expressing support for a 30 percent CO2 cut over 1990 levels and support for a multibillion dollar “fast start fund”, and the chair of a key working group releasing a new draft text. Unlike the earlier leaked text, which UNFCCC Secretary Yvo de Boer immediately disavowed as an “informal paper”, the so-called Cutajar draft, a six-page document to replace 180 pages of negotiating text, is being called “the first official draft” for a climate deal, according to the COP15 website. At the end of Week One, it appeared likely the world will settle on a political framework rather than a full treaty, but emissions targets, levels of assistance and other key issues at this point remain undecided.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.