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From the diabolical airport lounge of climate change diplomacy

Monday 21 December 2009, 09:35

Sarah Mukherjee Sarah Mukherjee

Demonstration @ COP15

Editor's note. Sarah Mukherjee, Radio 4's Environment Correspondent, was in Copenhagen for Cop15's messy finale. She wrote this sketch from the corridors outside the official meeting rooms as the formal agenda fell apart. As you'll have read, things didn't go exactly as she - or anyone else - expected - SB.

International conferences like these are like being in a diabolical airport lounge. Lots of people from all over the world, some rushing, others wandering.

I've been to several of these climate change talks over the years, and this seems to be the bloated older brother of all the others put together. Thousands of people - twice as many accredited as the venue could hold, flying from all over the world to talk about reducing global carbon emissions. The irony has not been lost on many of the journalists and other observers who have not made the trip.

The whole affair, both the logistics and the talks themselves, appear to be creaking at the seams - which makes it very difficult to cover as a story. In the early days of this process (we're talking years ago here), the whole thing was small enough to be held in a medium-sized conference centre.

If you hung around people's hotel rooms and the meeting areas when the ministers of two countries met (the 'bi-laterals' as they are known), they'd come out for a chat and tell you how everything was going. Now, people meet in 'delegation areas' that appear to be several hours' walk away from the press area, which is itself very distant from the main negotiation halls.

The weight of expectation has seemingly made things more, rather than less than less, difficult for not only the organisers, but also those who have come here, ostensibly to save the planet. It's like a weird town with its own language, its own rituals and its own rules.

There are meetings to agree on money for small countries to develop clean technologies, on whether countries will get money for reforestation (can you see there's a bit of a theme here), and how to measure carbon emissions reduction. So far, the meeting appears to be struggling to agree a text for the leaders to argue over.

The rich countries want the emerging economies like India and China to agree to curb their carbon dioxide emissions in the future; the emerging economies want industralised nations to accept deep, legally binding targets for reducing CO2 - and the poor countries want money and technological help.

So - will there be a deal? Well, it will be difficult to get 110 leaders here to talk without coming up with something they can all sign up to.

But maybe a more germane question for us in the UK is what difference will it make - if any - to daily life. As one delegate from another EU country told me: "offering developing countries billions of pounds to sign up to a deal is all very well - but where is the money going to come from, and how do we sell it to voters back home?"

Unlike many international processes, charities and pressure groups have always been fairly central to the negotiations. They have led the science, often becoming government negotiators and advisers as climate change has become a bigger public policy issue. So when huge numbers of those who were accredited to attend for the first week were told their passes were no longer valid for the second, there was undisguised fury. The Friends of the Earth grouping staged a sit-in, and many former delegates have been religiously turning up trying to get in. As more world leaders appear, they have had less and less luck,until now they are reduced to sitting outside the perimeter fence chanting.

We had the requisite demo, the requisite political positioning; now it comes down, as these things almost always do, to two men sitting in a room. President Obama and Premier Wen of China are meeting to try and finally settle their differences; nobody is betting that they will

Sarah Mukherjee is Radio 4's Environment Correspondent

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