Saturday, 19 December 2009

Bolivian Statement Outside Bella Centre

At about 2:15am, as late night discussions continued inside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen, Pablo Solon, the Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, came out to address the one hundred demonstrators holding a vigil at the main entrance. His statement starts by talking about the latest document on the table. .

"..they are not able to present it until now. They are going to present it in the following minutes. We don't have the final text. There have been some changes.

We, as the Bolivian government, we have clearly expressed that we are not going to accept any kind of text that is cooked by only twenty five countries because that breaks all the principles of the United Nations. If we accept this then we don't have to come to a meeting like this - we just have to wait as the 25 leaders of the world decide for all of us. And we are not willing to accept that there are countries of first class and countries of second class.

So, our main concern is that what is going to happen here will have many negative effects in relation to democracy and transparency in the UN, in relation to the G77 too. Because, in order to make this so-called deal move on, they have to buy some countries and they have to break the unity of developing countries. This is a very very bad precedent.

From the substantive part, we know, we don't have the final text, but they have approved that it will be two degrees (Celsius) - the goal. And we don't accept that. Why we don't accept because that means that several islands are going to disappear. Our glaciers in the mountains are going to disappear. Africa is going to be cooked. We are approaching a situation where we cannot guarantee that we are going to be able to save whole humanity. Maybe some millions are going to die because of the decision that tonight is being taken and this is not discussed.

When they say this is an agreement that's insufficient, that's just a first step, we don't think that. We think it's a bad agreement. To have $10bn - and you know it's $10bn dollars from Japan, from EU and from the United States. In reality, in the pledges, the United States is going to give only $3bn in the next three years so, per year, they are going to give only $1bn. And they spend a great amount of money in the war of Iraq and Afghanistan - they have a defence military budget of $700bn and they are going to give $1bn for the following three years.

And when they speak that there are going to $100bn by 2020, the text that we have read is $100bn that we all have to mobilise in order to get the $100bn that means developed and developing countries - it's not that they are going to put the $100bn.

So, we are not going to accept it. We have to see how they are going to proceed now because there is a problem. This is an official meeting of the UN and this group that has drafted this text was not officially organised by anybody of the conference inside the UN. So, if we meet here together (outside Bella Centre), we discuss a 'document' - we can do that and then we can say 'oh, this is the agreement' - that's not so. We are 192 (countries) and of course sometimes in the UN we can agree that a group of countries can do something but we have to agree and we have to decide who - but we didn't decide that. We didn't say who were going to draft and now they have to do some kind of - I don't know how they are going to do it - they have to present this as the conclusion of an event where 192 countries are present.

So, we are going to have a part of the 'movie' going on this night. For us, the most important thing here is that Copenhagen was a success. Not here. Outside (cheers). Because there has been a lot of awareness, a lot of conscience, and now we have to build a very big movement. Things are not going to change in the negotiation if we don't have a strong social movement, a strong civil society mobilise in the street.

You know that the proposal of the Bolivian government - we want to organise a world-wide referendum in relation to climate change. And president Morales says lets think about the 22nd April - the international day of 'Mother Earth'. We want to see if we can organise this officially in some countries and with social movements and civil societies and environmentalists in the rest of the world. Because if we are able to demonstrate, in an action like a referendum, that we can mobilise fifty, one hundred million persons voting and saying 'this is the kind of agreement that we want' then the situation can change.

We have to put a lot of pressure here and I think what you have done was very great and, sometimes, you cannot win the first battle but we are going to win this war because it's the only way we can save our own lives and our Mother Earth.

So, thank you very much for coming here (cheers)"

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Crtical Point

Frustration is the order of the day here in Copenhagen. As Gordon Brown heads to the UN's  COP15 climate talks, there is frustration amongst developing countries that they are putting more on the table than the Annex 1 countries. Frustration also amongst climate activists that their freedom of expression is being crushed by Denmark.

I say "Denmark" rather than "Danish Police" as there seems to an air of acceptance here at the degree of control being applied by the forces of law and order. This evening there is news, following the inaugural outing of Denmark's sole water cannon in the streets around Christiania last night, that police have raided the "bike block" workshop and that plain clothes officers within the Bella Centre have arrested Tadzio Müller, spokesperson for Climate Justice Action, after he gave details of tomorrow's planned protests. This reminds me of the actions of Nottinghamshire police arresting hundreds of climate activists at a school on conspiracy charges, even though no action had taken place.

As the number of spaces within the Bella Centre for NGOs and observers is reduced this week (down to just 90 by Friday for the entire "Civil Society" delegation) fears are emerging that developed countries are simply dragging their feet. There's a long long way to go and just 3 days remaining. It's hard to understand how years of talks have lead to such a weak display of will in the face of such overwhelming evidence and acceptance of the need to act.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Out in The Cold

A cold, grey, wet day in Copenhagen - not really a day you would want to find yourself in just your underwear outside the COP15 conference centre and then realise that it wasn't just a nightmare.

For about 20 delegates from the US Youth Network for Sustainable Development (SustainUS), this
morning's action outside the Bella Centre Metro station was a fine display of bravery, endurance and goose-bumps. Chanting "Don't leave youth out in the cold", the group asked arriving delegates to make sure that the voice of youth was heard within the COP15 process.

After agreeing to continue for "one more train load", Ben Wessel (pictured left) led the group in a chorus of "how old will YOU be in 2050" before the cold got too much, the "surf bunny" underwear was hidden once again under layers of warm clothing and the group headed for the welcome warmth of the Bella Centre.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Bella Centre Rejection Process

This was always going to be a frustrating day but I was still unprepared for the efficiency with which I was ejected from the Bella Centre registration lobby and back into the impossibly early 2pm chilly Copenhagen dusk.

I've been in Copenhagen since Sunday, finding my feet and trying to make sense of the cycle lanes and the huge amount of information published in a multitude of forms about the UNFCCC COP15 climate talks and other parallel events. I've mastered the single brake bike (it actually has two but you only discover the second when you try to back-pedal and end up skidding to a stop in the middle of a busy junction) and I now know that a cyclists hand raised up with fingers wiggling doesn't mean that they're being friendly but that they're about to pull over and perform a sneaky left turn. They are a pretty friendly bunch though and I've been invited to follow other cyclists a few times in response to a blank expression as they give me unpronounceable street names.

It's a bleak bike ride to the The Bella Centre, a typical exhibition and conference centre, about 2 miles out of town at the end of a corridor of new housing. It looks out across open heath and marshes and is surrounded by concrete blocks, steel fencing, razor wire and a few Danish "Politi" (police). At the moment, they seem to be keeping a low profile at the centre and focussing on the sites where activists are starting to meet up for Saturday's big action.

So, with my face fresh from cycling and armed with my two "Letters Of Assignment", press card and passport, I strode past the rather bizarre Supreme Master Ching Hai goody-bag handout and walked confidently towards the first line of security. "Badge?" barked the large security guard blocking the entrance channel immediately. I explained that I was registering as press and he yielded. After two more demands for my clearly highly prized but non-existent badge, I made it to the security tent and its twenty X-ray machines. Another request for my badge and I finally made it to the queue for the press registration desk. An Italian writer behind me had just come straight to the centre from her train and was in the same situation as me - not knowing whether we had made it onto the list or not.

I hadn't. I had to wait 30 minutes as UN press teams, concealed behind a dividing screen, considered my plight. My Italian colleague didn't make it either. Looking at the blogs this evening, there are some seriously frustrated independent journalists. At least I hadn't travelled 5,000 miles to be told that I couldn't come in.

It's much easier to get out from the registration are - you simply follow the "unsuccessful registration" signs. Another request for my badge as I left - just to rub salt into the wound - and, with a final push of a temporary door in a temporary wall, I was back out in the cold and planning where to interview Brother Berge, one of my "personal journey" stories. As I cycled back along the edge of the bleak and misty heath towards the city centre I kept telling myself that I didn't want to get into their centre anyway.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

My own journey

It hadn't really crossed my mind when I was screwing solar equipment to a still damp, freshly plastered wall, that I might now be sat in a café in Cologne, half-way through my journey to what are considered the most important talks of our times. But, when I think of it, that's exactly when my journey to Copenhagen really started. It's been a tough couple of years establishing myself as a photojournalist but an important part of this journey.

It was the first day that me and a team of village tradesmen had made a really good, positive step towards bringing clean electricity to a remote community centre in Bwelero village in northern Malawi - SolarAid's first large solar project. All the frustrations of the previous weeks - the frustrating negotiations with customs officials, the bargaining with hungry policemen on the way to plead with a minister to allow the solar panels into the country and the painful firing of a rogue electrician - dissipated as those first boxes went up on the wall. It was exhausting, sweaty work and there was still a lot to be done, but it felt like a milestone had been reached and it filled me with confidence that we really could complete the project.

The positioning, posturing, partially revealed emissions targets and the concealing of cards that seems to have marked the past few weeks remind me of those early weeks in Malawi. In the end, we just did it. We rolled up our sleeves, were direct and honest with all those officials and just got on with it. We knew that the work we put in would make life better for that community and that we could demonstrate that to anyone who would listen. We knew that the solar skills that would remain with the tradesmen and the training given to local youth groups would mean that the system would keep working for many years.

Sometimes you just have to be brave and push on and that's my message really for negotiators attending the talks in the next two weeks. Be positive and be brave.

Now, as I head out into the streets of Cologne again, dodging hen parties and tipsy shoppers, dragging my hard-to-control wheelie case of equipment and warm clothes behind me, the next part of the journey awaits - a 6 birth couchette cabin on the night train to Copenhagen. Roll on morning.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Copenhagen Stories

As the world counts down the remaining hours to the start of the UNFCCC COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen, I'll be making final calls to those delegates, activists, politicians and campaigners that I will following on their personal journeys over the next two and a half weeks.

You'll get to hear more about the characters in the coming days and weeks, but you will hopefully get to see and hear more about the hopes and, quite possibly, frustrations of a range of people making the journey to Copenhagen. I'm hoping to get beyond the placards and boxes of negotiating documents and find out more about what drives people to get involved in the process, what they can achieve by taking part, in whatever capacity, in the COP15 talks and to see if some consistent answers start to emerge to the sixty four thousand dollar question: How do you communicate the need for urgent action on climate change without leaving people feeling powerless, scared or, worse still, apathetic, cynical and sceptical ?

My challenge will be, apart from getting into the Bella Centre now that Obama's visit has resulted in all remaining press places being allocated overnight, to cut through some of the rhetoric and chart the emotional ups and downs of the fortnight.

I'm still struck by the innocent-sounding but pertinent question asked by the UKYCC's Think:2050 campaign. "How old will you be in 2050?"

Well, I'll be 81, certainly less agile with a bagful of camera equipment, but hopefully witnessing and participating actively in a low carbon world where those who will be implementing decisions made in Copenhagen can do so freely, with positivity and enthusiasm.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Our Survey Said. . .

Following my earlier blog posting, I've now received a reply from the office of Peter Lilley in response the questions I raised following last weeks commons debate.

1. Can you please point me towards the Pew survey giving the UK 15% of people in the UK "take (climate change) seriously or are seriously concerned" figure you quoted. I can only find data from October relating to Pew's USA surveys. I would be interested to see the data showing how this percentage figure is much higher in most other countries.

2. Is the Science Museum survey that Mr Lilley referred to in his speech last week the "Prove It" survey that is available for people to enter online or can he point me towards other survey results that, as he stated in the house, resulted from questionnaires being completed by people who had actually walked through the physical exhibition space at the museum. I want to make sure that I get this clear as the Daily Telegraph reported the same "6:1" ratio when it reported that the online survey had been hijacked by sceptics.

And the answers? Here they are paraphrased with my comments.

1. That 15% Pew figure
The 15% figure quoted by Mr Lilley did not come from a Pew survey. It came from a Daily Telegraph article reporting the results of the 2009 HSBC Climate Confidence Monitor that has been commissioned for the past three years by the HSBC Climate Partnership. The survey questions 1,000 people in each of 12 countries worldwide and shows recent trends in public attitudes towards climate change in developed and developing countries.

If you look at the interactive version of the results, you can see that, in 2009, 15% of those surveyed "agree or strongly agree that climate change and how we respond to it are among the biggest issues that they worry about today". This is down from 22% in 2007 and 26% in 2008. Although the question posed is slightly different from the "take (climate change) seriously or are seriously concerned (about climate change)" reported by Mr Lilley (which ignores the existence and relative significance of other important issues that people have to worry about), we should indeed perhaps be concerned by this downward trend and ask ourselves if messages about climate change are being communicated effectively.

It is important however to look at the full content of the interactive report rather than simply cherry-picking results. The same report throws up some strange paradoxes and inconsistencies in the UK results. According to the report, only 9% of people in the UK agree or strongly agree that people or organisations who should be doing something about climate change are doing enough. 29% agree or agree strongly that the UK should go further than existing emission reduction targets.

The report concludes that "Consumers feel strongly about a deal (at Copenhagen) being reached. People in all countries support a budgetary commitment to tackling climate change despite the increased importance of competing priorities. We are seeing a demand for carbon dioxide emission reductions across the globe. Respondents everywhere believe that all countries must reduce their emissions regardless of whether they are in emerging or developed regions. A global call to action is clear"

2. That Science Museum "Prove It" Survey
Mr Lilley has confirmed "I suspect the Science Museum figs came from Wattsupwiththat blog last week". I'd never heard of this blog so I checked it out. The entry relating to the Science Museum survey is tailed by comments about how "robovoting" can be used to boost the "count me out" result. Once comment by "lihard" attributes 1,000 of the "I'm not convinced" votes to their own robovoting script.

It seems that the online poll was poorly designed, was open to abuse from all sides and made no attempt to check the validity of names and email addresses entered or whether they were from UK respondents. In other words, the poll has been exposed as worse than useless. It should never have been cited by an MP in a commons debate to suggest that the UK public are not convinced by the scientific evidence presented to them.

So, basically, ignore the online Science Museum Poll. It's broken. And ignore Mr Lilley's assertion that the poll demonstrates a sceptical public