The past week in Copenhagen has seen temperatures and tensions rise, building up to the arrival of Barack Obama today. But it’s the thousands of ordinary people who travelled to the city with the full intention of being a part of this agreement who are feeling the worst of the burn. Protests, clashes with police and arrests have escalated since Saturday’s predominantly peaceful march. The mood among NGOs and campaigners is dark.
One of the factors that has defined this conference is the overwhelming civilian presence. Twenty thousand accreditations were issued to non-governmental agencies for the conference centre, and that figure doesn’t touch on the numbers speaking, writing and blogging from fringe venues and events around the city.
The unprecedented scale of the non-governmental presence has had a profound effect on the spirit here. There was a sense at the beginning of the week that sheer popular will meant this summit could not fail — or at least could not afford to. Hordes of journalists, campaigners and bloggers came, determined to break down layers of political jargon in a quest for transparency.
Thousands of ordinary people came too, wanting, like Simone Lovera, a volunteer forest campaigner and indigenous Paraguayan, “to tell the world that climate catastrophes are not the problems of tomorrow — we are already living with it”.
However, for the past three days, access to the talks has been strictly restricted and quotas have been put in place for observers. On Wednesday, Friends of the Earth was the first to fall victim to the civilian cull. FoE representatives were stopped on entry to the centre and the organisation’s entire international contingent was greeted by Yvo de Boer himself, who told them organisers were acting on “intelligence” that they had been planning to disrupt talks with a mass walkout.
Dumbfounded and more than a little insulted, the group staged a sit-in in the centre’s foyer. Executive director Andy Atkins reflected the mood among NGOs yesterday when he said “the Copenhagen conference is fast becoming an international shambles”.
At a press conference on Wednesday evening, de Boer made a comment on the transparency of the conference. “If you ever witnessed a G8, G20 or EU summit where whole city centres are closed off, with containers and warships circling the venue, I don’t believe . . . that there is anything anywhere where you have such access and transparency,” he said.
This has been true until now. Ousting Connie Hedegaard from her role as conference president and replacing her with the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was a symoblic gesture. This summit has rapidly changed from a meeting of “united nations” into an elite gathering of the world’s most powerful men.
Today only 1,000 independent observers will be allowed access to the talks. As the doors closed to civil society, the hope and sense of empowerment I felt among the people on Saturday’s march are beginning to feel like a sad joke.