Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We don't have days like this in Bethlehem

I arrived at the Bella Center early this a.m. – well at least at the metro station before the Bella Center. The stop at the center itself was shut down due to “crowd control”. I walked to the center and was herded through a long series of barriers to join a very long line waiting to get in. It did move pretty quickly.
I had my “credentials” plus the secondary pass needed now that entrance has been limited to 30%. Thus, many in town couldn't get in and some were never able to register. Starting tomorrow it gets worse as they limit the total number of NGOs who can get in to 1000 and then to only 90 on Friday. It is a bit frustrating to think of all of the people who were accepted to come here as observers (and who spent a lot of money and created a large carbon footprint)but can't get in to even the side events or to see the really important presentations.
The policy and military presence was extremely obvious today and security screening was more rigorous. Not to mention the really viscous looking dogs, the water guns and helicopters flying over everywhere outside.
With the increasing limitations on entrance, we learned yesterday that the limited passes would be distributed through constituency groups. This is an aspect of the NGO/observer process that we had yet to learn. HB in her quick thinking reviewed the various choices and decided to apply for the research group (RINGOs; one has to love all the UNFCCC acronyms) since several universities (R1s as we refer to them in the states) seemed to be in this group, but mainly because it is the smallest group. We were surprised when we were accepted inot the group within about an hour!
So we went to our first RINGOs meeting this a.m. to learn that the very limited (60) tickets for the afternoon plenaries with the heads of state would go first to those members that had been active in RINGO events throughout the time in Copenhagen. There were at least 3 times that many people in the room. Of course, MC wasn’t called since we were brand new. We left, but I realized I had left something in the room. Just as I went back in, they announced that they would like the names of schools/organizations and contacts that were not called so that they had a complete list. I added us. Imagine my surprise about an hour later to get an email from them indicating that they had a lottery for the 5 remaining tickets and that HB and I were two of the recipients!
In the meantime, I ran into several of the MC students who were safely watching the protests unfold outside – via their computers from which they were getting constant twitter updates and video feeds. We were all wondering what would happen if someone the protestors managed to break into the center. Fortunately, that did not happen, but there were plenty of protests and sit-ins within the center as well. The students had been told not to show their badges when they left later in the day -- for their safety since the demonstrators might take out their frustrations on those who did manage to get in. There is not a lot else going on in this region so I found this odd, since who else would be walking out from the convention center region?
After eating, I went to the plenary and found it almost impossible to get past the security – even with the credentials. They kept changing their mind about who could go in but told the NGOs to wait. They kept changing the line, so the order of who was there first didn’t matter. Then they let about 15 of us in but there was yet another line of security who again said we couldn’t get in because there weren’t any seats. So much for limiting tickets to the numbers allowed in the room. When the door opened, I told the guard that I saw 2 seats and he let me in. (Frank Kuserk told me I should just act like the woman who crashed Obama's party and that being blonde helps!)
In reality, there were a number of empty seats at the back of the room. So more NGO reps could have come in.
The first two commentaries were complaints by representatives from China and Bolivia. China was concerned about the “illegitimate move by some parties to put forward text” without consulting all of the parties – the mysterious 3rd document that HB refers to in her post. Bolivia’s concern was not of process in that same sense, but about the content of the text put forward that she said was not “democratic”.
The session chair from the UNFCCC then got back to the agenda (about an hour late) and the speeches by the heads of state began. The first was His Excellency Mr. Nafie Ali Nafie, Assistant President of Sudan speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. He too expressed concerns about process – especially with respect to discussions of abandoning, rather than extending, the Kyoto Protocol provisions beyond 2012. Climate debt was a key theme in his comments, and he expressed concerns with how mitigation has been dealt with in Copenhagen. He called for an assurance that the rights of all developing countries to participate fully in shaping the outcomes of the conference would be respected.
H.E. Nafie’s speech was quite lengthy and the presiding chair admonished him for a breach of the process since each speaker is supposed to be limited to 5 minutes. I won’t be able to get in on Friday, but I am quite sure the President Obama will have longer than that to speak!
I then heard the Prime Minister of Ethiopia speaking on behalf of the African Group; the Prime Minister of Grenada on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States; the Prime Minister of Lesotho on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); the Minister for the Environment of Sweden on behalf of the European Union; the Minister for Climate Change and Water (love the title) from Australia on behalf of the Umbrella Group; and the Presidents of Senegal, Mali and Venezuela. With over 170 countries represented and about 120 heads of state in town between today and Friday, I feel sorry for the folks who have to listen to all of these and really pay attention as the comments establish the various official positions that will have to be reconciled.
I had to leave to attend an evening event (another post) and was happy to learn that the protestors were out of range and I only had to walk back to the metro stop I had been left off at earlier in the morning. Right outside the Bella Center, the pungent smell of tear gas lingered and there was litter strewn all around – something we had not seen earlier. (At least I think it was tear gas having never really been anywhere before where it was used!) As the train moved along, the large number of helicopters and police vehicles and personnel were seen for quite some distance and there were pockets of protesters along the way – all surrounded by police.
I think I am feeling ready to be back in the Lehigh Valley.

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