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Feeling the heat, and the cold, at Copenhagen

Some participants queued up in the cold for eight hours to enter the summit venue

Some participants queued up in the cold for eight hours to enter the summit venue

While “rather tense” negotiations continue inside the conference hall, many NGOs find themselves frozen out of the Copenhagen climate debate.

“Shame on the UN!” The hundreds of journalists and members of non-governmental organisations still waiting outside the Bella Center, where the climate negotiations are being held, are furious and don’t mind who knows it.

The Danish police have just announced that anyone who wants to get inside will have to come back and try again tomorrow. Those who have not yet managed to get the entry card to which their accreditation entitled them will just have to go away.

It is the end of the afternoon at the beginning of a crucial week for an agreement at the Copenhagen meeting, and some of those in the queue have been standing outside in the cold for up to eight hours.

It does not take long for the Bella Center – capacity 15,000 – to fill up. As the hours pass, and rumours about a problem with the accreditation system filter through, many simply gave up.

“I’ve covered dozens of UN conferences, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” a German journalist tells swissinfo.ch.

It is the NGOs, however, which bear the brunt of the “overbooking” at “Hopenhagen”. Their representatives account for nearly half the 46,000 people who have registered. In the face of the huge numbers, the organisers have announced that as of Thursday they will be limited to 1,000 accreditations, and only 90 on Friday, the key date, when the heads of state are there.

“We know that in these negotiations you’ll never get rules made on climate change unless the leaders feel the pressure. I’m worried to see that pressure is being removed at the very moment when it’s so badly needed,” Ricken Patel, the Canadian director of a large coalition of NGOs, told journalists.

But Rosmarie Bär, a representative of Alliance Sud, the Swiss coalition of development organisations, there to bring the views of civil society and the developing countries, saw no sinister motive.

“There simply isn’t enough room,” she conceded.

Counter summit

NGOs are present in large numbers in Copenhagen. Some completely reject the world government system and the UN negotiations, and have organised a counter summit far removed – in all senses - from the Bella Center.

Those NGOs which are at the Bella Center are not taking part in the negotiations as such. But they provide information, put forward arguments and act as pressure groups, establishing contacts as best they can with the delegates and the media.

The negotiations themselves are immensely complex. They are being held as part of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), and also of the Kyoto Protocol, which imposed legal restrictions obliging the industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of five per cent by 2012.

Technical negotiations have been going on for months, becoming even more intense at the beginning of the Copenhagen summit, in an attempt to reach agreement within different groups on a host of issues connected with deforestation, technology transfer, financing for developing countries and CO2 emissions.

The negotiating process consists of numerous closed-door official meetings, but also of informal discussions, in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough. The outcome of all these meetings then goes to the plenary session for further debate.

Heads of state

In the next few days the environment ministers are going to take over the reins of the negotiations, before the heads of state arrive to try to reach a final agreement on Friday or Saturday.

At this stage, “negotiations are pretty tense,” according to José Romero, deputy head of the Swiss negotiating team. It is just when they want to reach a conclusion that the number of conflicting interests of all the different countries becomes most clear.

“We stay until 2.30 or 3.30 in the morning, talking in groups, negotiating, writing down the terms of the agreement,” he told swissinfo.ch.

Everyone has their own bottom line. Money is part of it for the developing countries, who do not believe they are in a position to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without the financial and technical help of the industrialised countries.

The latter are ready to open their purse strings, as long as the way the money is used is transparent. And among the industrialised countries, one condition is that the United States – which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol – should make the same efforts as those countries which did ratify the protocol are doing.

A political agreement?

At this stage, observers think the summit could reach political agreement on the main principles. But a legally binding package, which could be seen as a final stage, seems to be out of the question.

Romero thinks the best that can be hoped for in Copenhagen is an “agreement on the need for action in the area of climate change to reduce emissions, and also for a financial commitment”.

He believes it will also come up with “a mandate to negotiate some binding treaties as quickly as possible – the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol [without the United States which does not want it] and a treaty on the Convention [alleviation and adaptation to climate change] which would include the United States and the emerging countries”.

Pierre-François Besson in Copenhagen, swissinfo.ch (Translated from French by Julia Slater)

Climate conference

Nearly 200 countries are meeting in Copenhagen until December 18, trying to reach a global agreement to follow or extend the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out at the end of 2012.

Climate scientists say the world has between 10 and 20 years to reverse the upwards trend in greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not achieved, it will be difficult for humans to adapt to the consequent destabilisation of the climate.

The aim for Copenhagen is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that temperatures do not rise globally by more than two degrees in comparison with the pre-industrial age.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says industrialised countries need to reduce their emissions by 25 – 40% of their 1990 levels by 2020.

It has called on the rich nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 – 95% by 2050, and developing countries by 50%.

The Swiss government proposes that Switzerland should reduce its emissions by 20% of their 1990 level by 2020.

Switzerland is prepared to increase its target to 30%, depending on what happens at Copenhagen.

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