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Critical Crossroads

Copenhagen Climate Change Negotiations

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Written by Meghan Swope      Add a comment

Today marked the opening of the Conference.Since nothing seems to occur without a glitch, only some of us were able to attend the Opening Plenary as planned. I guess you could call us "the lucky ones". I was one of them.

We got here as a group at 7 a.m., which was to be two hours before the Plenary. As it turns out, the Plenary was at 10 and not 9. While we were waiting, some students went to grab the daily agenda or to blog and e-mail.

Those of us still outside the exhibit space were approached by a man who gave us special tickets to the Opening Plenary. As it turns out, you can't get in without this second, special ticket -- but only the six of us sitting there were given tickets for our entire group of 20. Some others managed to run into him later and obtain tickets, but the rest were out of luck.

Apparently only 300 NGO tickets were given out, and there are over 15,000 registered NGO participants at Conference. So, yes, we were indeed the lucky ones.

The Plenary was so interesting. It began with a short film of a child's nightmare -- a world destroyed due to flooding, drought, and tornadoes. These are only some of the all too real effects of climate change that the class and I have studied throughout the semester.

The film also showed pleas from children across Denmark and the world, demanding action at Conference. We then heard speeches from the President of last year's Convention of the Parties, or COP, the Prime Minister of Denmark, and the Mayor of Copenhagen. All seemed to communicate a similar message -- let Copenhagen become known as Hopenhagen. Get it done. Seal the deal. Don't wait -- act.

We then witnessed the election of the new President for this year's COP, and the delegates from around the world began with the proceedings to initiate the Conference, confirm the rules and agenda, and begin the negotiating sessions. Not too fast, however.

Papau New Guinea's intervention during the rules portion was the first of what will likely be many controversies throughout the week. As I understand it, all the rules of the COP have been passed in the same way since these negotiations began 15 years ago. At the initial meeting, the first COP, one rule was omitted. That rule refers to consensus. At present, in order for an international treaty to be produced, the parties must come to a consensus. Papau New Guinea, or PNG as they are often referred to here, proposes that this consensus be brought down to only 75%. The reason they feel this way is that their island country is one of the most at risk in the world, and if swift action is not taken by the rest of the world, PNG as we know it may be submerged under water, thus creating a wave of climate refugees which no one at present seems prepared to take in. The President promised to further discuss the matter at a later time, but PNG would not waver from their position. The debate went back and forth three times before other countries, such as Brazil, also encouraged PNG to allow the discussion to move forward and thus the Plenary moved forward.

This, to me, represented the first example of another phenomenon we discussed in class -- the complex mechanisms that take place during international negotiations. In class, we'd done a simulation exercise in which each student represented a country and was to argue a proposed treaty from that position. Many factors must be considered, and it is nearly impossible to agree. Also, because time is short, action must be dramatic and swift in order to produce the change our planet needs. But, as anyone who follows any type of politics knows, swift and dramatic action is seldom wise and even less popular.

After the morning Plenary I staffed our Public Opinion Poll exhibit with Maria. We received in-person votes from delegates and NGOs alike, and spoke with people from Africa, Egypt, Greece, Canada, the US, and the EU.

Speaking of our poll, be sure to voice your opinion -- and keep coming back, as the question changes every day. Also check out the Vizu results map, where you can see real-time votes reflected as coordinates of poll participants around the globe.



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