Chaos in Copenhagen

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Frustration is growing about the lack of progress at the United Nations climate conference. Thousands of demonstrators are outside the conference venue and some are threatening to breach the barricades and hold a citizens’ forum in the venue compound. There have also been calls for delegates and NGOs to leave the talks and join the protesters. A number of NGOs have actually been denied access to the conference, raising tensions still further.

As soon as they arrive at Copenhagen’s Bella Centre, delegates to the UN climate conference come face to face with the reality of the situation. The entrances and exits are cordoned off by riot police vans. Delegates from the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth sit in the lobby, holding their entrance passes aloft in protest. They have been refused entry for “security reasons”. They are not the only ones.

“We are not a security threat. We’re just here to follow the negotiations,” says Nnimmo Bassey, general director of Friends of the Earth International. “We were looking forward to an open debate, but people have been excluded. It’s unbelievable.”

Mr Bassey still hopes the talks will end in success. The demonstrators outside the venue and the environmental organisations which have been allowed inside the conference hall are less optimistic.
“They’ve been talking for two years about the same issues. Reducing CO2 emissions and financial and technological help for developing countries. They’re still talking and not making any progress,” says the spokesman of the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, Willem Verhaak.

Citizens’ forum
This is why the Climate Justice Action group wants to hold a citizens’ forum in the conference centre compound. Leading the initiative is Kevin Smith who has repeatedly stressed that the demonstration must remain peaceful. However, the Danish police are taking the threat of violence seriously. They are refusing to allow the demonstrators near the conference venue.

Be that as it may, ‘Peter’, a protester unwilling to give his real name, says there are lots of ways to get round the police. “There are people who know how to get over barricades or pull them down. We know how to run or cycle round the police. There are also people keeping the police busy elsewhere in the city.” Peter explains that it’s a question of numbers. “There are 6,000 police but more than 10,000 demonstrators.”

Delegations and other conference guests have been invited to join the citizens’ forum. It is hoped this will lead to a walkout at the official conference in solidarity with the protesters. Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and delegations are dissatisfied with and distrustful of the talks. They are expected to heed the call. Despite the industrialised powers and the developing nations beginning to bridge their differences, recriminations are continuing to be heard. It is usual for talks such as these to stall just prior to the ministers’ conference but, this time round, all parties are sounding intransigent. And this is despite a heartfelt plea from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for compromise and consensus.

Life ring buoy
On Tuesday, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer talked to the press, holding an enormous life ring. It was a gift from the Oxfam Novib development organisation. On it was written: “1.5 Million Voices. Act Now, Save Lives.” It is precisely the message Copenhagen needs to hear.