Friday, December 11, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Six

—Yvo deBoer

Day 6: Another long day; too long to post right away, but we have it now.

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.



In Copenhagen the place to go at Christmastime is Strøget (literally "the stroke"), a car-free zone and the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe. Strøget was created in November 1962 when cars were beginning to dominate Copenhagen's old central streets. Jan Gehl was the master planner, and described the process in Life Between Buildings in Danish in 1971, in English in 1987. During the 1950s the street had closed to traffic for a couple of days at Christmas. In 1962 the closure was disguised as an extended holiday closure, but kept on. 

Building on public success, the network expanded piecemeal – another street and a few more squares emptied of cars in 1968, and again in 1973 and 1980 and 1992. From those first 15,800 square meters of the Strøget, Copenhagen’s pedestrian network has expanded to about 100,000 square meters (10 hectare) today. The idea has become a model now emulated elsewhere. Gehl's book Public Spaces, Public Life describes how such incremental improvements have gradually transformed Copenhagen from a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-oriented city over 40 years. Gehl coined the phrase "copenhagenize" to describe how urban centers can embrace bicycle culture and urban cycling.

We went for a walk at night on the Strøget and after pausing to peer into store windows we began to feel the chill air off the Atlantic creeping into out Tennessee jeans, so we stopped into Mama Rosa’s pizza parlour and enjoyed a tira misu and a glass of house red while we watched an artist apply oil to canvas in a store window across the way.


There is something of the pedestrian pattern in the Bella Center layout, although it tends to be linear rather than radial, making for a 20-minute walk between venues. All participants, the mighty and the weak, enter the same portal, although the mighty have a VIP line and the weak pass through x-rays and magnetic scanners and have to drink from their water bottles to prove they are not toting sulfuric acid or liquid thermite.


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.



Today was a biochar day. We gave a demo of the World Stove and a talk on carbon-negative ecovillages in Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved Vartorv Square that was attended by some of the city’s fine urban designers. We then rushed across town to catch Nathaniel Mulcahy, Debbie Reed, Thomas Hartung, and Johannes Lehmann fielding questions from a SRO audience of NGO observers, UN agencies, working press and national delegates.

With so much firepower on stage, even the more hostile questions were deftly and humbly met. Nonetheless, Biofuelwatch circulated broadsides claiming that the dark side of black carbon would be exposed the following day, stay tuned.


In the plenary meeting, Tuvalu made a bold proposal to convene a working group — with open access and transparency — to discuss the legal outcome of COP-15, or how the outcomes can be legally binding and enforceable, including the “P” word, penalties. This approach stood in contrast to revelations that the Danish president had been circulating a draft resolution to the G8 (now chaired by Barack Obama) proposing an outcome along the lines of Option 2 (see our journal Day 5). This revelation angered all the delegates and observers who were not privy to G8 discussions.



We think having a minimal agreement like this, despite how it was crafted and circulated, is not a bad thing, and proof of the potency of public opinion (the world’s, not the USA’s). The Danes were trying not to look bad by having a failed summit, and so put together the low-common-denominator formula as a face-saving deal. This indicates that a deal is possible, and also shows that public pressure is having an effect.

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.



Tuvalu won the rare “Ray of the Day” award from CAN, and justly deserved. Wednesday’s fossil awards went to Canada, Croatia and Russia, nudging out Ukraine, which took home two awards on Tuesday, one for the weakest position on GHG pledges among all delegations, and one for refusing to disclose how it spends the money it makes from sale of GHG quotas, reckoned to be at least 300 million euro from Japan alone last year.

1 comment:

Erich J. Knight said...

Here is a post from Nat to the rantings of the BFW folks;

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Nathaniel Mulcahy
To: biofuelwatch.org.uk,
Date: Fri, 11 Dec 2009 18:57:51 +0100
Subject: Dangerous Misinformation put forth by the Biofuelwatch Group at COP15
Dear Almuth, Rachel, and Deepak Rughani,

I am stunned that after I wrote to your groups (see attached) with the correct information regarding pyrolytic stoves and offered time and again to meet with you to provide you with all the information you had asked me to prepare for you, you chose no not to show up. In your side event yesterday Dr. Rughani insisted in restating the incorrect statement from your November publication that biochar stoves use one third more fuel. I had clearly shown your that this is simply not the case.

Furthermore, in good faith, I had written to you, called you, and you had been provided information based on field work and lab tests that show that the LuciaStove char produces no PAHs and that the LuciaStove uses significantly less fuel than other stoves (as little as one twelfth as much fuel as standard biomass cook stoves that can only use large pieces of wood or charcoal).

That you have deliberately chosen to ignore scientific evidence provided to you is deplorable, and that your misinformation places the lives of the people we have been helping, the soils we have been restoring, and the forests we are replanting at risk says that your personal agendas are clearly more dear to you than the lives of the poor and the health of the planet.

Your behaviour yesterday at your COP15 side event is so contrary to both logic and to your stated “about us” goals, and your lack of scientific integrity so pronounced, that I have to wonder what your objectives really are and who might be funding you.

Cordially yours,

Nathaniel Mulcahy

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