[Elizabeth Burleson is an environmental law professor from the University of South Dakota School of Law. For more information about her go to http://www.globalenvironmentallaw.com and click on "Burleson" on the opening page.]
I hit the decks running at Cop 15 heading into meetings with no sleep straight from the airport. The World Resource Institute provided an excellent framework for the finance debate between creating new institutions to distribute resources versus employing existing international institutions. Former US Congressman Dick Ottinger and I followed this with a lunch and briefing by the Climate and Energy Funders Group. Together with the Climate Action Network, delegates from a number of foundations (ranging from Rockefeller to Doris Duke) pooled collective understanding on how to effectively finance climate mitigation, adaptation, and innovation collaboration on environmentally sound technology. Forest Day events gathered stakeholders and decision-makers on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries). I met with a diverse range of United Nations representatives, scientists, economists, academics, and civil society non-governmental delegates. I found this forum to be an incubator of transnational cooperation. Dinner with the Climate and Energy Funders Group led to several great conversations on implementing the Bali Action Plan (1. Mitigation, 2. Adaptation, 3. Technology Transfer and 4. Financing). Having walked roughly 10 miles and stayed up until 2 am to respond to my delegation listserv and an array of Cop email, I felt in a daze arriving at the Bella Center before dawn. It was worth it however for the 20 minute wait to clear security as the lines left many delegates waiting in freezing temperatures for hours. My National Wildlife Federation delegation reported that many left when tensions grew. On the inside of the Bella Center, delegates rushed to find 8 am briefing meetings. A Chinese youth delegate happily shared his perspective on the proceedings to date. Helping the United Nations Environmental Program with their booth and side event materials on adaptation, I had the chance to talk one on one with over 50 country delegates, NGO representatives, and a general cross section of Cop 15 participants.
As a USD law professor teaching and researching climate, water, energy, and good governance, I brainstormed with graduate students that approached the UNEP booth interested in pursuing careers that encompassed climate. They shared their observations on the impact that civil society was having on the international climate proceedings and on the cooperation occurring between public private players. I shared my UN involvement from pre-Rio through Copenhagen including findings as a co-author of a UNEP book entitled GREENING WATER LAW. United Nations observers shared their understanding of Cop developments and coordinated joint side event logistics on core themes. My favorite meeting of the day involved UNEP representatives and several scientists strategizing on environmentally sound battery technology options for the future. Many country delegates stopped by for UNEP materials and to debrief after the Monday interruption of proceedings. I spoke with at least 10 African country delegations regarding their hopes for renewed consensus building.
I helped the National Wildlife Federation put on a side event on Amazonian Forestry issues, coordinating participation by a Brazilian governor (who navigated the long lines into the conference just in time for the presentation). As part of the National Wildlife delegation, Larry was able to obtain entrance into Al Gore’s organization’s new film “Climate of Change.” Gore personally gave an inspiring introduction to the film. Having worked with him at COP IV to the Rio Conference in 1992, I was heartened to see him at the core of bringing civil society into meaningful participation with international decision-makers. We stand at a cross-roads. As a UNICEF delegate to the Bali Climate Conference, I had a heightened sense of the urgency of agreeing upon a shared vision in an inclusive process. Good governance encompasses transparency, representation, and public participation. Efficiency and Equity can both be achieved here in Copenhagen with the requisite trust and political will.
In the mid afternoon on Monday Dec. 14, I witnessed the central hall of the Bella Center become the venue for a blue rain poncho clad intervention by civil society supporting Africa. Roughly 60 people began yelling “We stand with Africa, Kyoto Targets Now.” They held signs that reiterated these statements and were soon surrounded by cameras as the entire hall filled with thousands of participants stopped to take note. It remained orderly and did not take on the level of tension of the participants unable to enter the Bella Center. Yet, many NGO delegates were critical of the handling of public participation. Up to 100,000 individuals marched on Saturday in support of international cooperation on climate change. Amnesty International condemned leaving people bound for 4 hours forced to sit on city streets in freezing temperatures, arresting nearly 1000 and then releasing all but a handful). The general sense was that responding to a few brick throwers should not risk the safety and civil rights of civil society at large. Many delegates are now torn between trying to attend Bella Center proceedings and risking unrest as rumors circulate that protests might hinder access at the venue. All non-governmental delegations have been required to reduce their delegations by two thirds. Some delegations are coordinating via Skype meetings while others are shifting their focus to Klimaforum09 events.
As I write on Tuesday Dec. 15th, I am able to watch snow flurries swirling around Tivoli’s roller coaster rides, while helicopters circle above. I can hear people yelling and sirens calling. Local warning systems are needed the world over to provide accurate advice for people on the streets as natural or political events unfold. I am suppressing a foreboding, as someone who could watch the smoke from the towers on 9/11 and listen to days of hovering helicopters. I remain optimistic that light will shine through these short days in Copenhagen and together the international community will find peaceful middle ground that effectively responds to our collective climate change challenge.