This is the face of where the fate of the planet is being decided. These square pre-fab buildings that look like warehouses from the outside and Empire Battle Cruiser corridors within are the skull that holds humanity’s single most consequential cogitation.
When we were young, our mom and dad used to take us window shopping in New York City at Christmastime. The skaters in Rockefeller Center, the steam from the horses near Central Park, the Santa at Macy’s, the electric trains at Abercrombie and Fitch, the thick snowflakes falling onto the sidewalks ... all these things fill the pores of our memory with happy dopamine molecules.
Several COPs back, probably COP 9 or 10, there was a kafuffle when the NGOs were marginalized by design and so complained to the chair. Over ensuing COPs, the chair inquired of the States-Parties, and determined that, contrary to COPs involving, say, rights of women and minorities or sustainable development, where NGOs tend to be vocally dominated by anti-abortion and Christian groups, the NGOs at UNFCCC are second only to the science sector in what they contribute. Groups like Environmental Defense, Climate Action Network, and World Wildlife Fund have played a valuable role in driving policy.
NGOs are now given greater access. Consequently, it is not possible to get from the cloakroom to the Tycho Brahe or Karen Blixen rooms where the plenaries are held without traversing a carpeted maze of NGO stands. The stands themselves are not sterile tables and chairs fronting a plastic Kinkos banner, but rather lively, open, interactive and gadgety. This is trade-show high art — snatching the simian brain as it scans for the next branch to swing to, with quick peripheral motions, shiny objects, and free swag. Its gratifying to see McKibben’s 350 at the head of the maze, but none of the NGO stands are shabby, really, perhaps because the deniers have no UN NGOs. Hang on. We take that back. The Schiller Institute is here, dissembling about purloined emails and carbon-trading corporate cabals.
Neither would it be accurate to leave the impression that religious nuts do not muddy the waters of COP-15. Every now and then we run into the large format, hardcover, full color plate books of her Supreme Master Ching Hai (born Au Lac in Vietnam) with titles like The Birds in My Life, The Dogs in My Life, and The Noble Wilds. Dogs is a collection of snapshots of her Supreme Master’s poodles at play, at sleep, indoors, outdoors, etc. Heck, with enough money even YOU can buy a seat at the table of history’s most important meeting, and a chance to divert the attention of heads of state to your poodles and birdbath. Jonathan Dawson, who is also daily blogging now, notes that the weight of free literature anyone can pick up in a single day is more than you can read in several weeks, which perhaps is why there are so many copies of The Birds in My Life finding their way to rubbish bins.
The denier countries — USA, Canada, Russia, China, India and Australia (the ones with the most to lose) — are feeling enough heat to have the urge to sign something (except for Canada). It is up to the majority world and NGOs to make sure the only thing that can be signed is a serious and effective commitment — zero emission by date certain — and the Tuvaluian-led effort to create the enforcement mechanism. Outing the back room deals on COP Day 3 was a positive development.