The second week of the Copenhagen conference brought a new sense of urgency to NGOs at the COP. In this case it wasn’t just environmental urgency they felt, but an urgency to secure places and accomplish key objectives before being squeezed out of the conference by the UN secretariat.
The UNFCCC, which had approved admission for far more delegates than the venue could contain, began to aggressively cap and constrict the number of NGO delegates in the building. On Tue and Wed attendance was reduced to 7,000, clamping down to 300 on Thursday and Friday. As one campaigner put it, “if only they could do this with carbon emissions!”
My primary mission was clear, I needed to secure a concrete photo opportunity with the Mexican Environment Minister before Sandbag was potentially squeezed out of the conference on Wednesday night. I had been in touch with the delegation since Barcelona, and had been dropping in on them from the start of COP15 trying to arrange an appointment with Minister Elvira. We hoped to present him with an official list of the 3,688 athletes and 2,424 signatories who had supported our One Giant Leap campaign for clean power.
At the start of the conference our petitions had been handed to Yvo de Boer as part of more than 11 million signatures gathered across myriad NGOs by the TckTckTck coalition. Mexico, however, stood out as the country with the greatest number of athletes participating on the global jam on September 26th . It is also one of the first emerging economies to break rank and take on aggressive emission targets (30% off 2020 business as usual). Most importantly, though, it is the likely president for next year’s COP, making it a powerful potential ally to the campaign as the global deal evolves beyond Copenhagen.
First, though, I had to secure a pass from our admission sponsors at CAN-Europe. After a week of long days and late nights inside the convention centre, it was refreshing to get a brief glimpse of the old buildings and cobbled streets of downtown Copenhagen where the Vega NGO centre was based. Despite the pass, I was still obliged, on arrival at the Bella Centre, to spend several hours shivering out in the December cold queuing for access. Not a great start.
Access to the centre was very “democratic”. Directors and CEOs of major companies and utilities took their frigid place in line behind teenage activists. Indeed, very senior businessmen whose duties had prevented them from registering and attending in the first week of the negotiations, had the greatest difficulty, some facing up several days of queuing 5 hours or more before gaining access. This it turns out, was to play to my advantage.
Once inside, I made a bee-line for the plenary room where sectoral trading options were being discussed by a Kyoto Protocol contact group. I’d hoped to try and catch delegates as they came out of the officially closed session, but – adopting my most confident swagger – I was waived inside by an inattentive guard. With the session running overtime I was able to briefly corner the chair at the end of the session, none other than the Vice Chair of the Kyoto Protocol working group, Harald Dovland. Inspired by my shameless lobbying, other NGOs swarmed upon the chair as he vacated the plenary hall, and I was soon swatted away with the rest of them.
In the wake of Dovland’s departure a friend, reported how her boss, the Director of the World Coal Institute, had been locked out in the cold for days unable to get access, despite having NGO equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket – an orange access pass to the plenaries and high level segments. With him unable to make use of it, and partly to mollify me for scaring Dovland away, she gave the golden ticket to me!
Straight from there I ran to the other side of the Bella Centre to attend a side-event where the Mexican delegation was showcasing its environmental programmes and policies. I was in luck! The Minister was part of the panel at the event and, with persistence and pointy elbows, I managed to steal a moment with him to explain our campaign and to request an appointment for a photo opportunity with him. He felt that it should be possible, took my card and said his team would be in touch. Things were looking up!
After a quick catchup with the Sandbag team over a hurried lunch I lurched off to the opening ceremony for the high-level segment to enjoy one of my new golden ticket privileges. This turned out to be a dubious privilege – not because of the speeches – but because security restrictions obliged me to leave my laptop outside for the duration of the ceremony.
It was during this time that I missed an email from the Mexican office notifying me of a short notice opportunity to meet with the Minister. I could have kicked myself!
I hurriedly emailed the office to try and arrange a new appointment, visited their office to beg for a new timeslot, and had a bizarre altercation with a paranoid security guard who accused me of doing terrorist reconnaissance!
It was now very late and I was about to dejectedly head home when I spotted the Mexican press officer. I approached him and explained my predicament. “Ah! But the Minister is free,” he told me. “He should be here any moment now.” It took some last minute scrambling to find my colleagues and our camera, but the day was salvaged.
Minister Elvira was very obliging and described how, earlier in his political career, he had helped arrange the construction of many of the parks and playgrounds in which the Mexican traceurs now trained. He expressed his hoped that to see the Mexican traceurs come out in force again next year at COP16 to help push for a strong deal – we might have to take him up on that!
I asked him on behalf of our supporters to pursue a global deal for clean electricity – preserving the existing text relating to sectoral trading and advancing the power sector as the most eligible for delivering deep emissions cuts – to both developed and emerging economies. With luck, this will be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with the Mexican delegation as we push towards a legally binding deal in the coming year.