Protests at COP15

In about an hour I will head to the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark to witness a planned protest, a storming of the Bella Center. Thousands are expected to rush the Bella Center and most likely clash with Danish police as they ‘crash’ COP15. And like the protest Saturday, December 12, I suspect they will be reported in the media as protesters of the Conference and of the international agreement governments are hoping to construct to combat climate change. However, by attempting to disrupt the talks, these thousands are not aiming to put an end to the Conference altogether. They are not protesting the cooperation of government leaders and they are not disputing the importance of reaching an international agreement to curb emissions. On the contrary, these people are hoping to pressure government leaders and COP15 official delegates to reach a binding and effective agreement that will ensure climate change will be taken seriously as a global issue and that carbon emissions will be reduced and investments will be made in clean energy technology and that developed nations will work with developing nations to share technology and pay for their ‘climate debt.’

Many of the expected protesters (or perhaps demonstrators is a better word) are in fact delegates of the NGO contingent running simultaneously along side COP15 in the Bella Center. These delegates have waited up to 10 hours in the cold Copenhagen winter to gain access to the Bella Center where upon entering they have participated in informative sessions and activities aimed to share information and to apply peaceful pressure on COP15 delegates working to hammer out an agreement before government leaders arrive at the Conference on Friday. These people are committed to dealing with climate change and expect their leaders to be equally committed to solving this global crisis.

Initially, COP15, nicknamed “Hopenhagen,” seemed it would be the Conference that would produce a binding international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. As time drew near for the Conference to get underway however, it became clear that Copenhagen would not produce a binding international agreement but rather lay the framework for a treaty that would come in Mexico City next year. Those who plan on protesting later today fear that if COP15 does not produce effective results, government leaders will continue to delay coming to a comprehensive agreement. Meanwhile the current trend in climate change will continue and soon it will be too late to try to reverse the effects.

Inside the Conference, people from across the globe are particularly frustrated with the US who has a long tradition of noncompliance with international treaties. As Al Gore addressed the Conference yesterday, audience members squirmed as he called on developing nations to be understanding of the US’ reluctance to deal with climate change as Americans fear outsourcing and a troubled economy. But developing nations, including those represented by the African delegates of G77 who walked out of talks earlier this week, are tired of being understanding. They are the ones facing the effects of climate change and have long pushed the US to work with them to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Developing nations cannot understand why the US is reluctant to invest in the green sector for example. A move that would both pull the US economy out of its slump and also help reduce US carbon emissions that have largely contributed to the climate crisis.

Mr. Gore also told COP15 delegates no agreement is better than a weak agreement. He also told the audience that Copenhagen must be a success. According to Mr. Gore, success would mean finding solutions and compromises that will be needed to reach a fair, binding and ambitious treaty next year. He suggested American and world citizens push their governments to hold the next meetings on April 22, Earth Day, and to reschedule the meeting in Mexico City to be held in July rather than November of 2010 in order to put a treaty in motion and bind governments to the treaty sooner in order to deal with climate change sooner. The feeling in Copenhagen at this moment however, is that July is not soon enough. They will storm the Bella Center to demonstrate they want a treaty now.

Andrea Niehaus, Co-Director, UNA-USA Iowa Division

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