What's it like in "Hopenhagen"? Alas, The Economist's energy correspondent found himself annoyed with the conference within the first ten minutes ...
Some 35,000 asked to get in, but the convention centre holds only 15,000. I am one of those lucky 15,000, here to cover the opening of the Copenhagen climate conference (COP15), which is supposed to hash out some sort of agreement to follow the Kyoto protocol.
Copenhagen is a fairly small city, but it’s slick and well-run. Kastrup airport is festooned with posters advertising Denmark’s green companies, as well as other subjects related to the climate conference. The baggage system tells me exactly how long my bags will take to arrive. They come as promised. The modern Metro does the same, arriving exactly when the overhead clock says it will, making my home system (New York) seem rickety and archaic by comparison.
The Bella Centre, where the conference is being held, seems as large and populous as the city outside. Over here are the NGOs, over there a warren of meeting rooms for the official delegations. The media centre has hundreds of internet-enabled laptops free for any hack to use, in the unlikely event any of us forgot our own. Wireless is ubiquitous, free and functional. Denmark’s prime minister says that 80% of the food is organic, and the plastic cups are biodegradable. A booth about the “Copenhagen wheel” shows a simple bicycle wheel, invented with MIT’s help, that can harness the energy generated when a bicycle brakes, and then release it when the bike needs extra power. (This in pursuit of Copenhagen’s aim to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital, by 2025.) The staff are Anglophone, young, attractive and friendly. Never have I seen a big event like this run so well.
But when things get down to business on the first day, I am not so confident this week will be paradise. It begins with a short film, from the “Raise Your Voice” climate campaign. A girl watches a series of storms and devastations wreck the earth on her television news. She then runs out the door and across a field, which parches and cracks below her feet. She jumps and clings to a tree branch as the world literally falls to pieces beneath her. It ends with the little girl intoning, “Please, help the world.”
Then the film goes dark, and back in the hall itself, cheesy trumpet-and-harp music kicks in, while a girl in Danish native dress sings a solo, followed by a Greenlandic girl doing the same. Ten minutes into the official conference and I’m annoyed. Then Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the slightly schoolboyish prime minister, and Ritt Bjerregaard, the mayor of Copenhagen, take the stage. The city has rebranded itself “Hopenhagen” for the two weeks of the conference, and both of them surprise me by mentioning it from the podium, Ms Bjerregaard about five times. But on the bright side, the mayor tells the delegates, the water in Copenhagen’s harbour is clean enough to swim in. Good to know. I might need a chilly dip to wake myself up at some point.
The first substantive comment comes from Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He tells the hall sternly that the clock has ticked down to zero, and “the time for restating well-known positions is past.” Unfortunately, when the delegates from the floor begin their statements, that is exactly what they do: Sudan, speaking for the G77, demands more action from rich countries; Sweden, speaking for the EU, says of course Europe takes climate change absolutely seriously, and so on.
There is a surprising head of steam going into the conference, with America, Brazil, China, India, South Africa and others all recently announcing numerical targets for emissions reductions. But there remain huge gaps between rich and poor countries. I still don’t know whether the next two weeks will see them bridged, or just papered over.
Picture credit: america.gov (via Flickr)