It is Wednesday and 4 of the Moravian College delegates to COP16 have arrived. The atmosphere and tone of the event is much subdued compared to last year in Copenhagen. There are far fewer people here, in part, because quotas were established for the non-governmental observers before everyone actually arrived. The NGOs are limited to 11,000 and probably not that many individuals will actually show up. I haven't heard numbers for the actual official Parties or members of the press that will be here. The NGO events and exhibits are in a separate physical location from the negotiation sites -- about 15 to 20 minutes apart by a shuttle. It is thus more difficult to cross paths with people. Being week one, much of the work is being done behind the scenes and the majority of the international press won't arrive until the weekend. Unlike last year, no one expects a significant agreement; rather, the hope is to leave with a binding agreeement that will set a strong foundation for future work--especially at COP17 in South Africa next year. This meeting wasn't designed to be ones for heads of state like last year, but we learned today that about thirty have expressed plans to come next week.
The few protestors that we are seeing are being kept at the periphery of the meeting locations (i.e. outside the fences). There federal police are very visible along the roadsides and around the official sites; most are carrying machine guns. And there are U.N. security forces in blue shirts that seem to pop out of nowhere! But in general, many of the groups that were heavily involved in activism in Copenhagen seemed to have changed their approach.
At the municipal government building plaza last night, there was an inter-denominational prayer ceremony for the planet (no separation of church and state here). Everyone was dressed in white which led to a very serene atmosphere. There was song, and dance, and prayer -- a peaceful call for the negotiators to "do what is right". It was really quite an amazing event attended mostly by locals.
We talked with folks today who had been polling people from Cancun who were apparently surprised to learn that there are people around the planet who don't believe that climate change is happening. And what did we hear from the U.S. today? Current ranking member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc) announced today that Republicans have decided to kill the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming. And the rest of the world is looking to our country for leadership in all of this?
But all of this backdrop aside, the events that I attended today were extremely interesting and worthwhile. I am still trying to digest all that I learned and will post summaries about some key issues in the near future. Prominent themes seem to include:
- linking climate change to food (in)security;
- mitigation of greenhouse gases is being billed as a path to better health and well-being;
- the empowerment of women in addressing climate change (which may be related to all the high ranking positions that have been filled by women including Christiana Figueres);
- "Blue Carbon" (more on that in a subsequent post); and
- returning to the three conventions that arose from the Rio Earth Summit (1992) and drawing links between them. (Given that these include biological diversity, combatting desertification, and climate change, this is not surprising as the connections can easily be drawn.)