What happened in Copenhagen? (Google / Al-Ahram)

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What happened in Copenhagen?

Denying democracy is what ultimately led to the debacle of ineffective action on global climate change, write Curtis Doebbler and Margreet Wewerinke

What started as a festive effort to do something good for our planet ended in a heap of acrimonious recriminations and a meaningless declaration that does little to slow our planet’s journey down a path of mutually assured destruction. How did it all fail?

The setting was ideal. The Danish hosts had planned the event so well as to entice over half the world’s leaders to come to the otherwise unceremonious Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the simultaneously held Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The Danish government had also made a significant effort to ensure that civil society groups — the real proponents of efforts to save our planet — could also be in Copenhagen despite the prohibitive cost of visiting one of the most expensive cities in the world. The hosts went so far as to provide free accommodation (thousands of Danes hosted visitors in their homes), free local and sometimes international transportation, free Internet access, including computers, and a full schedule of political, social, educational and merely entertaining events.

The Danish also resorted to some less welcoming techniques like giving the police overly broad powers to act in violation of individual human rights, which the police obligingly exercised regularly against demonstrators. As a result, reports of police brutality, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and gratuitous violence, significantly outnumbered reports of climate change activists causing problems.

The Danish also put their own ecological ingenuity to work to ensure offsetting the huge carbon footprint generated by the nearly 40,000 airline passengers, 1500 limousines, and countless tons of waste and pollution that marked the conference.

The stage was set. The setting could hardly have been better equipped. But for all the good intentions and meticulous planning, the hosts and many others had appeared to forget what was at stake.

Problems were apparent early. Indeed, before COP15 opened it was clear to everyone involved in the past two decades of negotiations that only if the will and courage could be mustered to make hard decisions could the goal of protecting our planet from global warming be achieved. At the first plenary meeting of the COP15 the small island state of Papua New Guinea made an impassioned plea from a country threatened with extinction by rising sea waters and that ended in a simple request: let us make decisions by voting instead of waiting for everyone to reach consensus.

The Danish minister of environment and newly elected president of the COP15, Connie Hedegaard, seemed flustered. She seemed unable to deal with this simple request and merely deferred it to an unspecified time. This deferral prevented a shift in power from the politically and economically powerful states to a majority of states that will be harshly hit by climate change impacts and for whom finding real solutions is a matter of survival. Copenhagen could have had a very different outcome had Papua New Guinea’s simple request been honoured.

STAGE SET FOR FAILURE: The cracks in the perfect planning suddenly became visible. And observers began to wonder, could it actually be that in trying to ensure the smooth logistics of running the event, the hosts had neglected to think about the substance? Suddenly it seemed a little as if everyone had been invited to the world’s biggest concert by the most popular star, but nobody had bothered to invite the star attraction.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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