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

A Too Easy Target

Perhaps the 5th November was a bad day to chose to watch my first live commons debate. Remember, remember, the 5th November. . . Today's security measures at the Palace of Westminster however would surely thwart any kind of gunpowder or its more modern equivalent and all forms of treason although perhaps plotting can still sneak a path through the X-Ray machines.

I padded up the softly carpeted staircase to find that the public gallery was already packed with Italian tourists and groups of schoolchildren. But, by the time Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband rose at 12.15 to start the main business of the day, the commons benches were almost empty. I counted about MPs in the chamber. The press gallery was almost empty.

So, was this an obscure debate about glass manufacturing? An absorbing session on the finer points of parliamentary process? No. It was actually parliament's last scheduled debate on climate change before the much anticipated COP15 talks in Copenhagen. The last opportunity for MPs to represent and voice the questions and concerns of their constituents and to ensure that Ed Miliband and his team of negotiators left for Copenhagen with these questions ringing in their ears.

So why did I chose to sit in the tourist filled gallery to watch this debate when I could have seen it broadcast live at home? The remote controlled cameras in the commons chamber will only show you so much. They don’t show the galleries. They only show long shots of the chamber or who is speaking. Only by being there can you really see the level, or lack, of animation in the house as MPs stand to catch the Speaker’s attention. Only by being there can you watch as the row of impossibly young civil servants, perched on their own benches tucked behind the speaker’s chair, pass notes along a relay of backbenchers to those on the front bench. Only by sitting behind that huge glass screen can you see MPs slumped on benches, just one hour into what could be a 6 hour debate.

When Peter Lilley, Conservative MP for Hitchen and Harpenden, claimed that a survey completed by visitors to the Science Museum’s “Prove It” climate change exhibition "after they had been through the museum and seen the graphic evidence presented in the most persuasive way possible by the alarmists" showed that people who remained unconvinced of the dangers outnumbered those convinced by a ratio of 6:1, there was a flurry of note-passing but not a single challenge. Both front benches failed to point out to Mr Lilley, as had already been reported by the Daily Telegraph, that this was actually an online survey and that it had been "hijacked" by climate change sceptics. I'm certain that a concerted and determined campaign by the many organisations campaigning for action on climate change could easily reverse that ratio. In fact, when I last looked, the ratio was already down to 2.4:1 and falling.

I was left feeling disappointed that Mr Lilley wasn't picked up or challenged on this and that this now sits on the Hansard record. I had to fight the urge to knock on the big glass wall of the public gallery to make the point and couldn't get rid of the image of Benjamin Braddock hammering on the church wall in the final scdene of The Graduate. I could just image the snarling gritted teeth as I hammered away shouting "online survey! Hijacked by sceptics!"

I’m still waiting for Mr Lilley’s office to point me towards the Pew survey reported to show that “only 15% of the UK population take seriously or are seriously concerned about the prospect of climate change”. Something to be concerned about if it is true and something that could give us useful information on how people respond to the messages they are receiving about climate change.

In earlier "oral questions", Mr Miliband and Joan Ruddock looked exasperated and I leant forward on my bench as Mr Lilley, chose to attack "that" advert - the £6m "bedtime story" campaign that I've written about before and that is still the subject of an ongoing Advertising Standards Agency investigation. Mr Lilley describing it as a “propaganda film” focused on what he described as the “fairy story” depicted in the advert . It just goes to show that adverts like this present such an easy target for deniers, sceptics and those who are "luke warm", giving them a gift in that bedtime stories and fairy stories are so often one and the same thing.

The lack of MPs and the lack of press left me concerned that people could well be becoming getting weary of and hardened to the use of negative and doom-laden messages and images, such as those carried by the Act On CO2 TV campaign. It left me feeling that, as the Barcelona talks plodded on, the world had resigned itself to an incomplete deal in Copenhagen.

A new direction is needed if people are to become engaged and feel empowered. Hope and opportunity have a huge role to play and many groups are now trying to bypass the semantics of the science by focussing on a positive future and the huge opportunities it gives us to radically review the way we live.

John Gummer, summed this up nicely.

If Britain wants to be in the same position in the future that the industrial revolution put us into in the past, we really must accept the green revolution. That was the whole burden of the report produced by the Quality of Life group, which I had the honour to chair. The report made it clear that there was an economic imperative to deliver a low-carbon economy”

Campaigning groups are finally starting to use messages like this to try to dispel feelings of helplessness that can come from being bombarded with images and forecasts of doom and destruction. I’ve just read the introduction to Al Gore’s new coffee table style book, ‘Our Choice’, and am looking forward to reading some positive and empowering messages and just hoping there are no pictures of polar bears clinging to lumps of ice. . .

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bedtime Stories: Scaremongering Or Guilt Tripping?

Image : DECC

The DECC's latest Act On CO2 TV ad campaign, "bedtime stories", is facing investigation from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and has come under fire from bloggers and commentators (avid environmentalists and climate change sceptics alike) for being simple "scaremongering".

The TV ad features a father reading a bedtime story to his young daughter. The picture book tells the story of a mystery land, "...where the weather was very very strange". We see crying rabbits in a dried up river bed. As the story goes on to say that "Scientists said it was caused by too much CO2 which went up into the sky when the grown-ups used too much energy", we see a jagged tooth dark-limbed monster hanging in the sky, threatening all below. The main point, that "it would be the children of the land who would have to live with the horrible consequences" is emphasised by a sad drowning dog before we hear that 40% of CO2 emissions come from things like "keeping our houses warm and driving cars". Finally the daughter asks if there's a happy ending. We don't see the father's response.

So, who is this ad aimed at ? Who is it designed to touch and to spur into action? According to the DECC: "Running on television, press, outdoor posters, cinema and online the campaign is designed to raise awareness of climate change, convey the imminence and the need for urgent action".

If we filter out the many YouTube comments from those denying the link between CO2 emissions and climate change or from those who deny that climate change is happening at all, we are left with a consensus view that the ad is pure "scaremongering".

But I'm not so sure. OK the ad does use some fairly deliberately crude imagery (the monster in the sky, drowning dog, weeping rabbits) to depict a horrible helpless situation, but the fluffy illustrated style is clearly not aimed at children. It's aimed at the parents. The people who make choices about their lifestyles now that will leave a legacy for their children. As the voiceover at the end of the advert says: "It's up to US how the story ends. See what YOU can do. . . "

So is this "scaremongering". Does it set out to frighten parents or frighten their children? My opinion is that it's a sledgehammer exercise in "guilt-tripping". Does that work? Will people look at their children and, having seen this ad, suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of "My God, what am I doing to the world and what am I leaving my kids to deal with?". I don't think so.

Making people feel bad or feel guilty will surely only raise their defences. Particularly when it involves criticising the way they care for their children - because that's what the ad is really saying. If you don't care about your kids, carry on doing what you're doing. They probably feel a little guilty already and reminding them of this guilt will result, in most cases, in hostility. It will press the wrong buttons.

Let it come from the kids. Let the kids make their own parents feel guilty and perhaps something will change. That's why I think it's so very important to get into schools and make sure that kids of all ages are being presented with facts about climate as well as some simple, easy to implement solutions. There are already organisations and charities like EcoACTIVE out there doing just that. There are a multitude of "teachers resources" provided by a multitude of charities but what's really missing is big-budget (this single ad campaign is reputed, according to BBC News, to have cost £6m by the way) well coordinated Government commitment to environmental education.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ratcliffe-on-Soar Climate Swoop

Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire, UK: On Saturday 17th October 2009, up to 1,000 demonstrators from a coalition of climate change campaign groups including Climate Camp, Plane Stupid and the Campaign Against Climate Change, descended on E.On's coal-fired Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant. Their stated aim was to enter the plant and shut it down. There were repeated clashes with police as the "swoopers" attempted to breach the perimeter fence. Several protestors and police were injured in the clashes.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

I have a stack of notes ready for blogging. I've been away and out of signal range. Nothing more exciting than the north Norfolk coast but just enough to stop me blogging or tweeting (@andybodycombe). So what better reason to come back to a full signal and get writing again than the Blog Action Day 2009. This year's topic - climate change.

I've written before about the challenges of motivating a change in behaviour and that challenge remains. I'm going to be in Copenhagen in December, documenting the stories of people outside of the main COP15 talks. These may be climate change deniers operating at the periphery. They might be representatives of communities already affected by the impact of climate change. What do I hope to achieve by being there? I hope to put across the range of motivators. What makes people decide to make the journey to Copenhagen? What are their hopes and fears for the COP15 fortnight?

I don't want to fly to Copenhagen. I've already forfeited a friend's wedding in Barcelona in the last year as part of my pledge to cut out short-haul flights. What's the cost of not flying? It's ridiculous! A £51 fare on EasyJet from London to Copenhagen is up against a £320 foot passenger ferry ticket from Harwich to Esbjerg (you get to share a cabin with five strangers for that tidy fare) or roughly £250 on various train tickets to get from St Pancras to Copenhagen. No wonder people opt to fly when the price scales are tipped so far in favour of budget air travel. How do you go about prizing people away from RyanAir (don't get me started) and EasyJet and onto high speed rail when ticket prices fail to reflect the TRUE environmental costs of air travel?

So, more posts coming soon - please keep reading. Generally on the theme of "what does it take to get people to take responsibility and take personal action" rather than "what should somebody else (generally a politician) do". Some great pieces on food security in Sunday's Observer Food Monthly to get you in the mood.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

"Why Don't They DO Something"

Image copyright Steve Bell, 1993

I sat down in front of streaming coverage of yesterday afternoon's UN session on climate change in the vague hope that I might be witnessing a turning point in humankind's response to what is now overwhelmingly agreed to be a problem of our own making - dangerous anthropogenic climate change. I was hoping for one of those Berlin-wall-falling or Mandela-being-released moments I had witnessed in my early 20s. A procession of world leaders declaring that they were deadly serious about stopping runaway and dangerous climate change and setting out their intentions and targets in advance of final talks in Copenhagen later this year. I had hoped to witness a UN epiphany and, with one eye on Twitter feeds from the UN floor and from commentators around the world, I watched as Barack Obama stepped up to the podium.

What followed was a river of rhetoric but with little substance. Obama looked tired. Bored even. The gravity of the failure-to-act scenarios he painted was delivered with the integrity and passion of a near-to-retirement science teacher explaining the basics of the periodic table (that was my personal experience of O level chemistry anyway). Perhaps it was the cold green marble backdrop that gave the delivery such a deathly tone. The cold mortuary slab onto which, according to many observers, Obama was laying any hope of a binding Copenhagen agreement including the US.

My mind wandered as he continued. One thing that I find slightly frustrating and perhaps counterproductive in attempts by many world leaders to stir up passion and action on climate change is their failure to talk openly about the thing that really motivates most of humankind to act.
References to "saving our planet" and "saving the earth" unfortunately leave many people feeling disengaged and distanced. Some people will only ever engage with issues that they face directly each day and that obviously affect them personally. They will fail to see how "saving the planet" really has any relevance to their lives.

As humans, we often feel that we define the planet we live on but, hard as it might be to entertain this idea, planet earth will be just fine in the long run without us. Something that dawned on the Apollo astronauts as they looked at back at a shrinking earth on their way to the moon. We may well end up wiping ourselves out like a self-consuming bacterial colony. We may well end up dragging entire ecosystems and species with us as we plough through and gorge on the resources that are in our care. Species and habitats are already being, and will continue to be, destroyed in the bow wave of unchecked human activity and many more would certainly be lost in our wake.

What does make people stop and think? I live in hope that human nature will, very soon, lead people to be shocked, affected and motivated to change their long-established behaviour when faced with evidence of what is already happening to other humans as a result of climate change and what could easily happen to them too. The challenge for me as a photojournalist and for all other media professionals is to make people think about the impact their lives are having on the people of Bangladesh, the Maldives, most of sub-Saharan Africa. . .the list goes on, and feel empowered and motivated to change.

As Obama brings his speech to a close, what he, and others leaders like him, are really describing is the struggle not to protect the planet, but to protect the future of humankind.

Don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not one of those people who thinks only of human survival. I believe passionately that we have a duty to look after the world we have inherited and to think about, understand and care about the impact we are having on the planet. But, I'm also realistic enough to recognise that this isn't what drives everyone. Many observers have recognised that bombarding people with messages of doom and destruction can leave us feeling powerless to act and to switch off, become defensive or even hostile.

As Obama's warnings of "morally inexcusable" inaction drew to a close without any indication of how he intends to get his climate bill through Senate, I realised that the challenge remains. How DO you persuade people to change their own behaviour and not sit back and pass all personal and moral responsibility to their Governments?

As I made a cup of tea after Obama's speech, I chuckled at the old 1993 Steve Bell postcard stuck to my fridge. A family are slumped on and around a sofa bathed in the light of a glowing TV set. They look as though they've been there so long that they have become part of the sofa. We can't see what's on the screen but we can assume it's something bad happening in the world. "Why don't they do something?" utters one of the family.
We all have to do something. Soon.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Climate Wake Up Call

There is growing concern, and increasingly frequently reporting, that rolling global climate negotiations appear to be stalling in the run-up to talks in Copenhagen in December. On the eve of the latest climate negotiation session at the UN, protestors from a coalition of groups around the world have taken part in a "Climate Wake-Up Call" to highlight the need to kick-start negotiations.
At 12:18pm, representing the 18th day of the 12th month, the date on which negotiations in Copenhagen will have to be completed, phone alarms starting ringing around Parliament Square in London. As the rings grew louder, hundreds of protestors converged on the grass in the middle of the square and started shouting, ringing bike bells and joining in a chorus of "tick tick tick...." As the alarms stopped ringing, people started calling Ed Milliband and Gordon Brown in an effort to swamp the DECC and Number 10 phone systems with "Wake-Up" calls.

Anna Roma, a freelance cabinet maker from London, managed to get through to Ed Milliband's assistant and was told that questions had to be submitted by email. Another protestor, Iris Andrews, managed to get through to Gordon Brown himself. The conversation lasted almost 5 minutes and Mr Brown gave her his assurance, as reported in today's press, that he would put pressure tomorrow on other world leaders to attend the Copenhagen talks personally. Mr Brown, under pressure from Ed Milliband, has recently announced that he will attend the Copenhagen talks in person stressing in today's Newsweek that "The negotiations are proceeding so slowly that a deal is in grave danger". In an apparent to the potential for creating green jobs as part of a green recovery, Mr Brown added "The UN talks are not just about safeguarding the environment, but also about stimulating economic demand and investment".

Tomorrow's talks at the UN in New York are crucial in getting world leaders to focus on the task in hand. There is a real danger, as reflected by recent comments from the US negotiating team, that people stop regarding Copenhagen as a key deadline for talks. There is already talk by the US team of "negotiating beyond Copenhagen". Something that the "TckTckTck" campaign want to avoid. Paul Hilder of Avaaz, one of the coalition of groups involved in the Wake-Up Call said that the success of today's action "totally blew him away" and hoped that Gordon Brown's call to other world leaders to attend Copenhagen talks would prove fruitful. "It feels like a big step forward right now. What's more . . . this is just one of 2,000 flash mobs happening all around the world from Beijing to New York wher people are calling on their Governments to do this thing. I'm excited."

Thursday, 10 September 2009

It's Not Just About Ice

People have become very used to images of polar bears clinging to remnants of ice bergs or floating on small isolated islands of sea ice. Such images are used to highlight the problems of climate change and its impact on Arctic and Antarctic ice volumes and the fauna of those areas. WWF's ads encourage people to adopt a polar bear but make no mention of the wider impacts of climate change.

Image - Christian Aid

But how do you make something like loss of sea ice or the melting of the Greenland ice sheet tangible to a member of the public. How do the public relate to images of icebergs calving into the warming waters of the Arctic? How do such images relate to their lives and, more importantly, how do such images make people think about their own impact on global climate change or influence their behaviour? It's very easy to adopt a bear, ease your conscience, and then do nothing about your own CO2 emissions.

The new ad campaign from Christian Aid goes someway to connect familiar melting ice imagery with the direct impact climate change is already having on the lives of people all over the world. From the "Africa Iceberg" image to the latest "Cracked ice, Cracked Earth" image (shown here), Christian Aid are trying to focus our attention on the immediate impacts of climate change. Displacement of populations, failed, unseasonal or extreme rainfall, loss of livelihood. All of these things are happening now and the challenge is to persuade people to act before, as can often be the case with human nature, they feel catastrophic impacts of climate change themselves.

It's a challenge that photojournalists need to accept and I hope to help make that connection between our actions as individuals and the direct impact those actions are having on individuals somewhere else.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A Day Of Actions

Activists from Climate Camp finished off a day of actions in central London on Tuesday by occupying the canopy above the main entrance of Shell's HQ building on the South Bank.

After earlier protests at RBS head office in Bishopsgate and at the offices of EON's PR agency Edelman, activists moved on to BP's HQ in St James Square before heading across the Hungerford Bridge to pay Shell a visit.

After speeches, several protestors climbed up onto the ledge above the main entrance. The "S" from Shell's sign was quickly removed leaving the building branded as "Hell Centre".

As campers returned to Blackheath this evening, some passing via the 10:10 campaign launch at Tate Modern, they will be hoping that today's actions have given their message a higher profile than it seems to have achieved over the past 5 days.

Today's Guardian editorial piece sums up the challenge ahead in persuading individuals, businesses, organisations and Governments to change their behaviour in order to avoid dangerous climate change: "All great causes involve a tension between collective belief and individual action".

Friday, 28 August 2009

Climate Camp Images

Some really good blog postings from photojournalists attempting to cover the climate camp including. . .

This one on The Guardian's use of a Flickr site to try to capture free images from people inside the camp written by Jonathan Warren. Browse his site for other pieces on media access.

And this one on general media access to the camp from Marc Vallée.

The camps own media guidelines.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

100 Days and Counting

With just 100 days to go until the start of the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen, this year's Climate Camp was finally established this afternoon on London's Blackheath, site of many a revolutionary meeting over the centuries.

Several "swoop groups" assembled at significant points around London including the headquarters of Shell, the Bank of England and Stockwell Underground station.

I waited with the Stockwell "Blue" group as we all waited to hear of the final location for the camp. As noon came and went with no mass text received, news came in that other groups were on the move around London in an effort to create confusion over the site of the camp. Finally, after two hours of waiting, the message arrived and we headed from Stockwell to Greenwich station before walking up to Blackheath where the signature tripods were already up and the Herras fencing was almost complete.

With a commanding view of Canary Wharf, one of London's key financial hubs, the site will now serve as a base for a week of workshops, talks and actions. The climate at the camp this afternoon was one of well-organised and efficient activity - site maps became districts as tents, work spaces and composting toilets were assembled and tested. Bath tubs and kitchen sinks stood stranded, awaiting plumbing.

Something was missing - conspicuous by its absence. Policing. By the time I left the camp before this evening's 6pm media curfew, I'd seen about 10 police officers around the edge of the camp as well as couple of patrol cars. Even the late appearance of a police helicopter went almost unnoticed as it hovered about a mile to the east of the camp.

"This is so much easier than last year" a woman commented as she wheeled her bike around the zig-zag entrance barriers. A reference to the airport security style stop-and-search points operated by Kent Police at 2008's Kingsnorth camp. Her amazement was met by a cheeky "I can frisk you if you like!" from a fellow climate camper waiting at the gate.

The Met's soft policing policy appears to be playing out although today's statements about "letting the camp set up" peacefully still leave questions and doubts about how policing might change in the next seven days. How will the police respond if direct actions are launched from the camp?

With Climate Camp 2009 just a single 202 bus journey away from me this year and my recent camping plans for the Yorkshire Dales cut short by overflowing campsites, I'm tempted to join the camp and find out more about the plans for Copenhagen. Only 99 days to go now and early talks appear to have stalled over the developed nations' reluctance to act first.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Death of The Nile Delta

I'm just back in London after a couple of weeks on the Norfolk coast around Happisburgh. It's one of the fastest eroding stretches of the UK coastline after the 1950s revetments, installed following catastrophic east coast floods in 1953, started to fall into disrepair and the sea caught up with 40 years of blocked progress. I've been visiting Happisburgh for the past 20 years and have witnessed the formation of a beautiful new bay, slowly nibbling its way into the farmland south of the lighthouse, as well as the more dramatic cliff falls and loss of houses between the old lifeboat ramp and the new bay. Rock armour added more recently has slowed the erosion to some extent but a walk along the base of the cliffs gives you a robust appreciation of the power of the sea and the futility of half-baked attempts to hold it back.

It makes me realise just how easy it is for us - to leave Happisburgh behind and head to London and its perceived invincibility. There are vast areas of the world where the march of the sea inland goes completely unchecked and where the number of people displaced will be huge. Add in the potential sea level rises from the various climate forecast scenarios and the world will have to deal with migration of populations on a massive scale. London and other major cities may well experience what is happening right now in Bangladesh, Alaska and the Nile Delta.

A recent article in the Guardian's G2 magazine really summed up the impact of sea level rise, increasing salinity of groundwater and the fragility of water supplies, by looking at the Nile Delta. Jason Larkin's images help portray an area under serious threat and Jack Shenker's report really brings home how people might only wake up to the impact of climate change when they are personally touched by its consequences.

There will be more from Happisburgh and some latest images over the coming months.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Vestas Protest Goes On As Vestas Secure Possesion Order

Seven workers at the Vestas plant in Newport, Isle of Wight, remain inside the building this evening despite Vestas obtaining a possession order in court earlier this morning. Four of their colleagues left the plant during the afternoon, deciding to bring their protest to an end so that they could be reunited with friends and families.

In a statement read out on their behalf, they thanked everyone for their support and promised to speak directly to the media once all the protestors had left the plant and were reunited.

It had been unclear earlier in the day how events would unfold as the court's decision was relayed to the 300 union activists, climate change campaigners and Vestas employees waiting outside.

Protesters marched quickly back from the court to the plant as rumours circulated that the bailiffs had gone in as soon as the court had granted Vestas the possession order.

The rush back proved unnecessary as the now familiar faces of the "balcony boys" were spotted in their usual place. As the gathered red-green alliance digested the news that the occupiers could now be removed, there was some frustration and disagreement about what to do next. Union reps said that it was a workplace dispute and therefore up to those inside the plant to decide what happened next. Climate campaigners were keen to highlight the other key message of the campaign - that this is about Green Jobs and the UK's wind energy manufacturing capabilities.

Some confusion remained this evening about who was left inside the building. One unnamed workers opted to leave by a back exit but Chris Ash, Mike Godley and Seb Sikora emerged, after being searched by police, to an emotional reunion with families, friends and supporters.

As I crossed back to Portsmouth, the irony of this being Cowes Week was not lost on me - a week where everyone relies on the power of a free natural resource - the wind - to propell their boats. And a week that could also seal the closure of the UK's only wind turbine manufacturing facility. Other Vestas facilities are this evening being occupied so the story looks set to continue.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Big Day For Green Jobs

Support for the 20 workers occupying the Vestas blade factory on the Isle Of Wight continues to grow as it becomes a symbol of the unexpected struggle to protect green jobs in the UK.

Members of Workers' Climate Action today glued themselves together to block the main entrance of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in a show of support for the Vestas workers.

Vestas are due to resubmit papers to the court in Newport at 10am on Tuesday in a repeated attempt to evict remaining protesters from the factory. Attempts to serve notices last week were rejected by the judge as Vestas failed to present paperwork correctly.

Protesters are expected to gather for a march to and from the court. The workers in the factory have said that they will leave peacefully if Vestas secures the paperwork they need to evict them.

I will be in Newport on the Isle of Wight to follow the story and will be posting images on this blog.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Vestas - Green Jobs Under Threat

Since the seriousness of the Credit Crunch dawned on world leaders, there has been much rhetoric about the forging of a "green" path to economic recovery - the "Green New Deal" in the UK. Governments around the world have allocated radically different percentages of their financial bail-out packages to the "low carbon economy" and have demonstrated radically different interpretations of "green jobs". Call me a cynic, but the UK car scrappage scheme surely has to be one of the best examples of thinly-veiled greenwash of recent months. Together with the £27m of funding given to Land Rover to develop a "green 4X4", it diverts money away from industries that can offer much larger and much faster carbon savings.

So, it's with great interest that I'm following the ongoing occupation by 25 workers of the Vestas turbine blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of White. 625 "bright green" jobs are at risk on the island as Vestas plan to close the blade-making facility citing UK "regulatory and planning" obstacles to onshore wind as the main reason. 1,900 Vestas jobs could be lost across Northern Europe as "...conditions in Northern European markets have failed to meet expectations".

The "red-green" protest, named in recognition of the common ground established between unions and the environment movement, has attracted a huge amount of attention. It clearly highlights, as already experienced by the UK solar industry, how inconsistent and poorly joined up policies can scupper a seemingly blooming sector. The protest looks set to become a major demonstration over the weekend as numbers are swelled by the arrival of further environmental activists and people who were planning to attend the now-cancelled Big Green Gathering in Somerset. A legal move by Vestas to evict the workers
has just been adjourned until 4th August giving more time for protests to grow.

Vestas have stated that the UK plant manufactures blades for the huge US onshore market where large scale wind farm developments are being built (BP claim to be developing a wind farm in Texas the size of Berkshire) and that it makes sense sense to shift production closer to the market. An original 2008 plan to convert the Isle Of Wight plant to produce larger 44 metre blades more suited to UK onshore and offshore turbines has now been halted.

It seems crazy, when the UK has one of the best wind resources in the world and a Government that has announced a huge programme of offshore windfarm development, that the workers at Vestas have to take this kind of action. These are workers equipped with precisely the skills that will be needed to help the UK Governemt fulfil its 2020 renewables target. Vestas,
in their latest press release, have left the door ajar for 150 research and development jobs at the plant. As far as large scale manufacturing is concerned, they appear to be adopting a "wait and see" approach until the UK develops into a "strong and stable market".

As usual, it is the renewables industry and, more importantly, the green-collar workers employed in the industry, that have to deal with the uncertainty of inconsistent policy and mixed messages.

There is now a petition on the 10 Downing Street website in support of the Vestas workers.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

UK Government Roadmap to Tackle Climate Change

Wednesday saw the high profile launch of the UK Government's "UK Low Carbon Transition Plan", setting out, in more detail than the generic statements made at G8, how the UK intends to address the twin challenges of reducing our CO2 emissions as well as preparing us for reduced availability and higher-priced oil and gas.

Mid-term targets, missing from the G8 leaders' declaration, include a 34% cut in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 as well as generating 15% of our energy from renewable sources by the same date.

The transition plan was accompanied by three key planning and strategy documents:
  • The Low Carbon Industrial Strategy
  • The Renewable Energy Strategy
  • The Low Carbon Transport Plan
See DECC's WEBSITE for full Renewable Energy Strategy documents.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Mayor of London unveils new Overground Trains for Crystal Palace

The latest stage of improvements to TfL's Overground services began earlier today as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, helped to deliver the first of the new 'walk-through' trains that will be soon be arriving in Crystal Palace.

The Mayor was joined on platform 2 of Willesden Junction station to unveil the first of 54 new trains that will be rolled out across the Overground network betwenn now and 2012, when TfL's ambitious plan to build an orbital railway around the capital should be completed resulting in direct Overground services from Crystal Palace linking with the rest of the London Underground and Overground network.

The new three-carriage trains mirror the layout of more typical Underground carriages with flip-down seats and large standing areas but also feature driver-monitored CCTV, disabled access ramps, air conditioning, real-time information screens, wide aisles and a walk-through passenger area that makes the train feel generally more spacious and secure.
The trains will initially be able to carry up to 500 passengers (an eight percent increase compared to the existing trains), rising to 700 passengers when the trains are lengthened to four carriages in 2011.

The extension of the old East London Line to Crystal Palace is scheduled for completion in June 2010 with four trains per hour running from Crystal Palace to Highbury and Islington.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Lack Of Mid-Term Roadmap in G8 Climate Declaration

Thursday saw the release of the G8's final declaration on energy and climate and it's clear that achieving a binding and workable agreement in Copenhagen in December will require a lot more work in the coming months.

Observers are already highlighting the key shortcomings of the declaration as a lack of interim or mid-term emissions targets; the failure to establish a clear road map to achieving 2050 targets and a lack of agreement on the baseline date for controlling emissions (ranging from 1990 to 2006).

Despite the G8 declaration, Canada has already stated that it will stick to its original plan of 60 to 70% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared with the G8's 80% declared ambition.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has also criticised G8 leaders for failing to identify interim 2020 emissions targets.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Report Backs National Grid Statement on Wind

A new report, "Managing Variability", by independent energy analyst David Miborrow and commissioned by WWF-UK, RSPB, Greenpeace UK and Friends of The Earth, reinforces the recent declaration by National Grid that the UK's electrical generation and distribution infrastructure is more than capable of dealing with a variable input from large scale wind generation:

G8 Keeping Climate Targets Vague

Day 1 of the G8 and the first draft communique on climate change (the full announcement is due later today) has failed to identify specific targets or how to achieve them. The focus appears to be on "long-term" (2050) with little on short and medium term measures that can be put in place to keep global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

Waiting for the full announcement but not filled with hope that it will lead to smooth or productive discussions in September or, ultimately, result in a workable and effective protocol in Copenhagen in December.

See G8 official website for declaration (Paragraphs 60+ relate to climate change and clean energy):,2.pdf

Bigger Rains and Earlier Floods in Zambia

The power of the Zambezi river is extremely important to the people of Zambia. The Kariba dam on the border with Zimbabwe south of Lusaka holds back 180 cubic kilometres of water, using it to generate about 6,400 GWh of electricity each year - Zambia gets 99.4% of its electricity from this and other hydro plants. Where the Zambezi plunges over the Victoria Falls near Livingstone, tourists are drawn from across the world to get soaked in the micro climate it creates and to marvel at the power of the water.

The people who live along the river are used to its rise and fall through wet and dry seasons and have adapted to the seasonal floods that shift its course and enrich the flood plains with nutrients to grow crops. Rituals and ceremonies associated with the river are embedded in local culture and people are used to having to move away to allow the Zambezi to do its work in late March and early April.

But rainfall in recent years has become more erratic and the communities living alongside the river as it snakes through western Zambia are now feeling the effects of climate change. More than 30 people died in just small part of this region when the floods arrived early and with great force. This is just one small example of how communities and countries who make the smallest contribution to global emmissions of greenhouse gasses are quite often the first to be on the receiving end of the resulting impacts.

Coverage of the recent early floods near Mongu can be found at:

I plan to use this blog to highlight other stories like this, remotely from my desk in London or in person from the scenes, and to bring home the impact that climate change is already having on populations around the world.