In Copenhagen, with a Waiting World

In Copenhagen, with a Waiting World

One of the many messages brought to Copenhagen

The African group walked out of the climate talks today. There’s a big divide in the negotiations: stick with the Kyoto Protocol until something else is agreed, or drop it in favor of a new deal in which developing countries, too, have to commit to binding targets for reducing GHGs along with the industrialized nations. Many delegations expressed their displeasure with draft text coming from chair people of the various negotiating groups. Also, will agricultural practices be included as serious global warming mitigation measures, or forests alone? The sense I’m getting is the latter’with the fear that if they’re not decoupled, neither gets in and degradation and loss of forests continues apace, releasing CO2 and destroying biodiversity with every tree that’s eradicated. “REDD [UN speak for reducing emissions from forest destruction and degradation] is one of the immediate ways we can start doing something for our climate. We have to make REDD a way of life,” said Nobel peace laureate and Brighter Green Copenhagen partner Wangari Maathai today in Copenhagen. I think she’s right . . . and that the jury’s still out on agriculture and climate.
In the meantime, more and more high-level people are arriving here. A huge line of would-be delegates seeking to register stretched out of the Bella Center this afternoon, mingling with the dedicated cadre of followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai urging everyone who passes, or gets stuck, to “Be green, go veg” to arrest global warming. “We need vegans to save the planet,” one of their signs taped to a metro pillar reads. They’re an impressive group, there all day, each day. Today, the police were there, too. Finally, it got too late and hundreds were told: come back tomorrow (my timing was good: with my pass around my neck, I hardly waited in the cold at all).

Down to the wire for an agreement . . . it always seems to be like this at global conferences. Will Copenhagen be any different? I heard some sobering words last night at a Klimaforum] event with Green Party representatives from around the world (among them, of Brazil and José Bové of France. Wangari couldn’t make it since “forest day” ran long. Too bad. There was quite a crowd). “Obama’s not Bush, but the U.S. is still the U.S.,” Elizabeth May, head of Canada’s Green Party, reminded us, describing the U.S.’ pretty dispiriting policy positions here and the bottleneck to a breakthrough climate deal that is the U.S. Senate. Remember that they wouldn’t even consider the Kyoto Protocol by a vote of something like 97-0?!

This afternoon I ventured into the big U.S. pavilion that’s been erected near the delegation offices inside the Bella Center. It was kind of deflating: no Scandinavian style here, no sprezzaturra, not a lot of energy, not a whole lot to proclaim’although there was free tea. The exhibits focused on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s work to integrate climate change into its programs on the ground, NASA’s role in collecting data on the climate, and another science-y initiative. No trumpeting of what could be the U.S.’ lead role in creating a green economy or a more humane, sustainable food system. Or a commitment to “climate justice.” It almost felt as if the brochures had been taken out of a closet, spruced up just a bit, and then matter-of-factly put on green tablecloths.

Celebrity politicians are now in Copenhagen, many of them American: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore. The biggest of them all speaks at the conference on Friday. What will Obama bring? He still has the world, more or less, behind him. But does he have the world in his sights?

Photo Courtesy of Greenpeace