Dec 202009

And so, it’s over. After two straight weeks of negotiations, the conference that was originally supposed to save the world from irreversible climate change limped across the goal line Saturday. “Chaos”, said the NGOs, media, and vast majority of the delegates.  ”A disaster,” said the Swedish delegation. And those were two of the more dipomatic descriptions of the COP15 conference.

“It was a roller coaster ride,” admitted Yvo de Boer, the U.N.’s top climate-change negotiator and ringmaster of a show that P.T. Barnum would have admired. Within a 12-hour period on the final day, there was a deal, then there wasn’t a deal, then there was a deal. And then, after the majority of NGOs and most of the press were on planes back home, the UN delegates pulled a last-minute stunt, blocking the acceptance of  the document known as the Copenhagen Accord. A small group of world leaders from the U.S., Japan, the EU, China, India, and Brazil flew in to edit and revise the accord, which the U.N. then debated. The debate went on, and on, and on. Some media reported that a deal had been reached, packed their bags and went home.

But a snag remained. African nations were not happy with the accord and, with only a few journalists in the press room, they launched a series of moves designed to get the accord off of the table. Finally, at around 6 a.m., after an all-nighter, the Danish Prime Minister announced that the UN could not “adopt” the accord.

Continue reading about the aftermatch →

Dec 182009

Did the dam break? Between Japan’s announcement it was providing a new aid package for short term climate mitigation that, on paper, brings the total amount of commitments to $30 billion by 2012, and the U.S. announcement that it will work with other nations to provide 100 billion dollars annually by 2020 for climate change adaptation, developed nations and the UN were putting on a happier public on COP15 than they were 24 hours ago. Negotiations are expected to go all night, and nobody is thinking about leaving either the press room or the hall itself before negotiators finally stumble to the finish line with some sort of a deal.

Continue reading about the final countdown →

Dec 172009

(Setsuko Kamiya photo)

Will the world change after COP15? (Setsuko Kamiya photo)

In 1997, I covered the COP3 conference on climate change, which was held in Kyoto and produced the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reductions. The final day of the conference was pure chaos. After 13 days of negotiations, developed and developing countries remained far apart, the U.S. was accused of trying to scuttle a deal, and everybody was angry at the endless bickering, posturing, pontificating and speech-making that characterized the process.

For those of you reading the COP15 reports in The Japan Times, the above will sound as familiar to you as it feels to me. Thankfully, no oil lobbyists have tried to sneak into press conferences with fake press badges, no fistfights have broken out between NGOs competing to drop their press packets on top of the keyboards of journalists while they bang out copy and, remarkably, none of the delegates or journalists is (yet) walking around in their underwear or staggering around in a drunken stupor, made worse by too many days of bad food and too many nights of little or no sleep, wondering what on earth is really going on in the closed sessions. And if Kyoto police ever sprayed tear gas into the eyes of protestors or physically beat them up, which is what happened a few hours ago, none of us in the media room ever heard about it.

Continue reading about a possible deja vu →

Dec 152009

Photo by Setsuko Kamiya

NGOs make themselves heard (Setsuko Kamiya photo)

Tuesday afternoon sees press events ranging from Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger, California’s governor, to former U.S. VP/Nobel Prize/Academy Award winner Al Gore to Senator John Kerry.  But while it’s starting to feel a bit Hollywood-esque inside the press center, outside, NGOs remain furious after learning that the U.N. has greatly limited access to the center due to the arrival of nearly 120 heads of state. This means that the majority of NGO reps, who enjoyed a lot of freedom in and out of the center these past 10 days, will now be stuck outside for the rest of the conference.

Continue reading about celebs and NGOs at COP15 →

Dec 142009

The long, long, long wait to get inside

The long, long, long wait to get inside (Setsuko Kamiya photo)

UN officials have just admitted that there were more than 45,000 people in the conference center where COP15 is taking place, nearly 30,000 more than the center was officially designed to hold. Registration has been suspended and hundreds of people continue to wait in the freezing cold to pick up their badges, including a correspondent for The Japan Times, who remains outside as I write this, after standing in line for over six hours.

The UN also just now announced restrictions on the number of NGOs that will be allowed in for the rest of the conference. They will need a secondary badge that will be issued by the UN starting today. Those badges will be limited in number, forcing many who have been briefing the media inside the center to provide information outside the conference hall via the Internet.

It is unclear why the United Nations agreed to allow so many participants to register for badges when they knew the building had a limit of around 15,000 people. The UN was aware at least a week before the conference that overcrowding could be a problem, as press registration was suspended on Dec. 1.

Dec 112009
Media central (photo by Setsuko Kamiya)

Media central (Setsuko Kamiya photo)

Covering large conferences as a journalist is one thing. Covering a conference the size of COP15, where over 34,000 people from 190 nations are crammed together for two solid weeks is something entirely different. How does one get the job and prevent exhaustion and burnout?  With careful planning, good eating habits, and making sure that one gets a certain number of hours of sleep per night.

Unlike Japan, where I have to file in the evening, just minutes, in some cases, after a conference has concluded, the time difference here works in my favor. My day starts at around 6:30 a.m., when I wake up at the youth-hostel like Cabinn Metro hotel (the rooms are smaller than most Japanese business hotels but the bed is extremely comfortable, the most important requirement of all). Unlike many participants, who have to come in from neighboring Malmo, Sweden, an hour or more away by train, I have a 10-minute walk to the efficient Metro station. Trains arrive every four or five minutes, and a mere 90 seconds after I board the train, I arrive at the station beside the convention center.

Continue reading about a day in the life of a COP15 reporter →

Dec 102009

The “Danish Treaty” scandal that erupted Tuesday night continues to reverberate throughout the press room, with journalists from around the world calling it a “game changer,”  ”the death blow” to the COP15 conference that may yet still lead to a walkout.

The real problem is that negotiations in Copenhagen began after months of stalemate and, as Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change expert told reporters, after previous meetings in Barcelona, Bangkok and Bonn, which were supposed overcome the main differences between developed and developing countries, ended up with little or no progress and a lot of work to do in very little time. By all accounts, the Danes, anxious to secure a deal, put forward what they hoped was  a reasonable proposal. Some of those in the developing world now expressing shock and outrage were in the room, according to de Boer, when the proposal was discussed and, apparently, didn’t raise loud protests at the time.

Continue reading about the "Danish Treaty" scandal →

Dec 082009
The media hive inside Bella Center

The COP15 media hive inside Bella Center, Copenhagen (Setsuko Kamiya photo)

What a difference a dozen years makes. At the 1997 COP3 conference, which forged the Kyoto Protocol, the science behind global warming and climate change was generally accepted, but not universally believed. Today, those who still insist climate change is a myth or that human beings aren’t responsible for the rise in emissions are pretty much a minority worldwide, although in some countries, such as the U.S., they still enjoy a degree of political and media prominence not seen elsewhere.

In the intervening 12 years since Kyoto, an entire generation of environmental scientists, activists, politicians and bureaucrats who believe the science behind climate change, believe the earth to be in peril, and who deal with a host of green issues, ranging from drafting municipal recycling ordinances to securing funding for new green technologies, has come of age. In 1997, NGOs at the Kyoto International Conference Center in Takaragaike were often older activists who remembered the first Earth Day in 1970. They had a good understanding of the dangers to the environment. But it was rare to find one who also had a good knowledge of finance, economics, or international politics. Nor were they often seen as media savvy by my colleagues in the press room and I remember commiserating with them about how too many NGOs failed to understand basic journalistic realities like deadlines, the importance of being succinct on camera, and of being able to answer questions in a clear, concise manner that did not involve the use of charts, graphs, and (in one case I witnessed at the Kyoto conference) a set of differential calculus equations.

Continue reading about the COP15 Media Center →