CopenChaos: Anxiety Rising, In and Out of Climate Summit

CopenChaos: Anxiety Rising, In and Out of Climate Summit
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Update:Check the violence of police response on this video

Until today, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference hall in Copenhagen has been something like a dull Disneyland for grownups – defined by lineups and fleeting moments of interest or enterntainment. You lined up to register. You lined up for security. You lined up for documents. You lined up for food. And while you waited, canned demonstrations began and ended, like live theatre. When you finally got into meetings or news conferences, they lacked the excitement of a good amusement park ride, but given the multinational crowd, you still got the sense that it’s a small world after all.

Getting off the Metro today, however, it was a different story. After two days of sprawling, but orderly crowds – sometimes as many as 5,000 people standing in the cold, awaiting accreditation – the groups milling around today were mostly wearing police or army uniforms, carrying truncheons and, at one Metro stop, readying water cannon. It was clear, Dorothy, that we are not in Anaheim, anymore.

Then the trains stopped running at all – protesters on the tracks – and the crowd started to gather. Police officers grabbed everyone who looked less that UN-ready and searched their packs – without exchanging any niceties about civil rights or, certainly, rights to privacy.

By noon, the protest had formally begun. There were reports of teargas, but the Bella was locked up so tightly that the reporters inside dared not leave for fear of being refused re-entry. After all, tens of thousands of people have had their passes withdrawn in the last 24 hours. The organizers of this event had accredited 45,000 people – regardless that the space has a capacity of 15,000. And then a larger-than-expected selection of world leaders decided to come to – with huge entourages and security details. The Bella is a crush, and due to get worse in the next few days. And outside are crowds bolstered by people who came to this city in good faith, believing that they were going to be part of the proceedings, even if only as accredited observers. Now, they are, quite literally, out in the cold.

You have to hope that it is NOT a comment on the likelihood of success in these negotiations, but Stephen Guilbaut, of the Quebec evironmental group Equiterre, said flatly, “this is the worst-organized COP I have ever seen.” And starting with the very first Conference of the Parties in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Guilbaut has attended 10, plus another 15 or 20 intercessionals.

It’s hard to know who to blame for the current chaos. The Danes have put on a fabulous show in many regards – and they had to depend on the UN climate secretariate for organizational assistance. But at this point, the stress being felt in and near the Bella Center has stepped up immeasurably. The pressure on police and organizers is rising by the moment. And as the chance for success seems to be getting slimmer and slimmer, the price of failure seems to be rising noticeably.

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