Questions, questions, more questions

Posted by Deepa Badrinarayana

This is day 2 in Copenhagen. It has been a day of some meaningful events. The first one was a discussion led by Ireland’s Mary Robinson on achieving climate justice through law, ethics, forest sequestration programs, human rights and corporate involvement. This marked a departure from day 1 when the International Chamber of Commerce took a position that action required the creation of market circumstances for the  private sector to bring innovation while at the same time protecting intellectual property rights. Small group discussions, however, only revealed deep problems with achieving solutions.

A second session was led by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson. The event organized by Oxfam had a climate hearing. Representatives from Peru, Tuvalu, Bangladesh and Uganda all dispassionately stated their case. Floods, loss of seasons, loss of crops, loss of land, which as the Bangladeshi representative said, were attributed to a punishment by God. In contrast was Archbishop Tutu’s words — put a smile on God’s face by doing what is right for all. The testimonies were powerful and some very clear — as the Tuvalu representative put it — what are they negotiating? Our island is drowning. This is non-negotiable! Or the representative from Uganda — we had two seasons. Now we don’t. The floods took our village, our huts, our goats and our chicken — our food. We do not know what to grow any more. Give us the money!

What can one answer to these demands. What kind of rational explanation can convince these people who believe that they are suffering and that their suffering from climate hazards is not their fault. Mary Robinson gave the verdict that the solution was leadership, deeply lacking at COP 15.

On the coattails of that session I headed to witness the UN Secretary-General induct Wangaari Mathai as United Nation’s Messenger of Peace. It was great to watch the woman who for three decades worked on environmental and justice issue — after being repeatedly beaten for taking a stand for women’s justice —  receive the badge. Her view on action was measured. When asked whether an activist or a politician could change the world, her answer was both. She acknowledged that politicians generally were engaged and that explained their commitment to negotiate at Copenhagen. On the same note she added that an activist’s passion could move issues in the right direction.

Following the ceremony, I headed off to a session organized by the Climate Registry. Although hopes of listening to the Governor were dashed by his non-appearance, the discussion was nevertheless interesting. U.S. governors from Washington and Wisconsin shared the panel with premiers from Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario. The message was clear — these heads of states had acted at the “sub-national” level on climate change and believed that the same could be replicated in the other states. They were at the same time honest to admit the challenges this posed to leaders in fossil-fuel producing states or provinces.

In the midst of all these events, of course, were scores of NGOs peddling valuable information and a continuous stream of chants for action. The end of the day was generally emphasized by a Fossil of the Day award given to countries who had done the least in terms of climate change. Youngsters sitting and thinking through their strategy for getting their message across. Just a range of events. Then there is also the contrast — most who can afford the food or drinks in the center only seem to be  those with a decent exchange rate for their currency. Is there a lesson lurking here?

In sum this is a world of its own. The Bella Center in this charming town of Danish town is potentially becoming the eye of a storm. Perhaps not since protesters met in Seattle has there been such a gathering of protesters. Miffed by inaction and by brewing exclusion. Three days to go.

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