Climate of confusion

I'm writing this column in a Copenhagen café (good coffee here, and at £4 a cup you don't drink too much of it) on Monday, with five days of negotiations at the climate change summit stretching out ahead. By the time you read this, it will almost all be over. World leaders will have come and gone. We'll be waiting for the final declaration, if there is one. But right now, that feels like a lifetime away.

I'm right here in the centre of things and I've been paying as much attention as possible, yet I've got no idea how the week is going to end. I'm not the only one - everyone I speak to is exhausted and confused as the madness sets in and everyone stops sleeping. One comrade in arms said unhappily yesterday: "It's going to be a crap deal. And it's going to snow. And I want to go home."

Yesterday (Sunday is not a day of rest at the summit) the youth delegations had an eight-hour strategy meeting. Eight hours! This morning no one could get into the Bella Centre, where the summit is taking place. Outside, huge queues of NGOs stood like robots with the plug pulled out, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Activists spill in and out of prison as the Danish police arrest seemingly at will. Journalists are told three different conspiracy theories about the final draft within two hours, all completely contradictory. The Alternative People's Summit discusses wonderful, equitable solutions that will never make it anywhere near the UN table. Negotiators cry or lose their temper. The Free Hugs campaign is cleaning up.

And through it all, you have the sense of constantly chasing the facts, fighting your way through blizzards of leaflets and briefings and newspaper reports, trying to see the clear outline of what is happening here. We all know that there's going to be no final deal, just the outlines of one that will be hammered into proper shape after the conference is over. But whether there will be more walkouts, whether the developing nations will end the week feeling that they've been completely shafted, or whether some sort of genuine consensus can actually emerge - the mood changes from minute to minute.

The saddest thing of all is that here we are, with the chance for countries from every part of the world to come together and act with firm and convincing leadership. UN conferences are conducted differently from World Trade Organisation fortress-a-likes; for the first week at least, NGOs and campaigners mingled with the delegates and attended meetings, and there was a real spirit of excitement and co-operation. But a weekend during which the Danish police took the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and smashed it over their knees, arresting more than 1,200 demonstrators during three days of almost entirely peaceful protests, exposed the great weakness in any hope that a deal can come out of all this craziness.

Somewhere the ideal agreement exists, just as, floating above us all, is the unreachable Declaration of Human Rights. But right now we are operating in a fog of war down here. Pretty much the only certainty we can rely on is that the usual frailty will surely prevail.

This article first appeared in the 21 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special