Chaos in Copenhagen

Posted by Mary Platt

This is the fourth day of our visit to COP15, and we have watched the conference descend into more and more chaos each day. Yesterday was the worst: a huge contingent of activists, mostly from “Climate Justice Action” and “Climate Justice Now,” attempted to march on the Bella Center, hoping to enter and hold a “people’s rally.”  Police (it looks like the combined police forces of all of Denmark and many from neighboring countries are here) halted them (Manny got some footage) and, inevitably, violence resulted.

Everybody's mad: The failed takeover of Bella Center, resulting police violence and NGO fury were front-page news in the English-language COP15 newspaper.

We were far away and didn’t personally witness any of the violence, but it was all over the news here last night. From what they showed on the news, the front lines of protesters linked arms and tried to force their way through the police line by sheer dint of numbers, and the police took out truncheons and began whacking. Pepper spray was also used (not tear gas as some reports had it).  There was some bottle-throwing, too, so although the activist side of the story is that their intent was peaceful assembly, a linked-arm forced march through police lines accompanied by thrown objects was probably asking for trouble. If the intent, however, was to get on TV to get their voice heard, it was a successful PR ploy – they were all over the news. More than 200 were arrested.

The NGO’s (non-government organizations) have been increasingly shut out of the Bella Center as the week progressed.  The Chapman team lucked out the first two days by arriving essentially before the crack of dawn (well, dawn actually cracks here around 9 a.m. — so we would be in line at the Bella before 6:30 a.m. before the hugest of the waiting crowds arrived).  Wednesday they restricted NGO entry completely after 9 a.m. – only Chris and David were able to get in and the rest of us were shut out.  Today they restricted NGO entry to only 1,000 people, so with 40,000 25,000 people here representing NGOs [45,000 total registered], you can guess where that left us – outside again!  Tomorrow, with all the world leaders, including President Obama, here, they say they are limiting NGO entry to just 90 people, so I can safely predict we ain’t gettin’ in!

The NGOs issued a strongly worded open letter to UN-FCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer and COP15 president Lars Loekke Rasmussen protesting this action.

So who’s to blame for this massive snafu?  Alas, many are blaming the Danish government for being too conservative and too paranoid about the security of the event.  Some are blaming the UN organizers.  Yup, a lot of angry, frustrated people and a lot of blame being tossed about.

On top of that, the world leaders have been arriving in waves, unmarked helicopters are buzzing ominously over the city like swarms of bees, and blaring sirens and swirling blue lights mark the progress of top-level leaders’ motorcades rushing through the city. There is talk that all routes to the airport will be shut down tomorrow when Obama arrives (throwing the return plans of at least one of our team members into disarray).

Oh, well — there have been a lot of other climate-related events around Copenhagen that we have been able to visit now.  And gracious, beautiful Copenhagen itself, with the ever-helpful Danes, have made it all worthwhile.  Most Danes on the street decry the police violence and think the security measures are completely overboard.

Deepa just arrived out of the night and said tomorrow’s protesters are already camped out at the central train station. I’ve seen major police presence everywhere in town.  I think we are in for a wild and wacky day tomorrow (Friday)!!


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