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COP15: Lockouts and walk-outs

Richard Black | 20:46 UK time, Monday, 14 December 2009

queue_ap595.jpgInside, it was said to be a walk-out but wasn't. Outside, it wasn't supposed to be a lock-out, but was.

A confusing time for all inside and outside Copenhagen's Bella Center on the second Monday of UN climate talks here.

From the perspective of creature comforts, inside had to be the choice.

Inside, whatever problems we had deciphering the most confusing day's proceedings so far, we knew where our next meal could come from and where we could obtain internal relief.

If the accreditation machine hadn't broken down, it would only have taken the morning for the thousands upon thousands queuing up outside to discover they weren't going to get in.

As it was, it took many of them the whole day to inch forwards to the point where they were forced to give up hope.

The Bella Center here holds 15,000 people, the limit set by fire regulations. Unanticipated by the UN climate convention or the Danish host government, 45,000 people have registered to attend this summit - by far the largest sign-up for any of the UN climate conferences so far.

bears226afp.jpgTwenty-two thousand of them are from NGOs - civil society - the huge numbers a mark of how important this summit is for their agenda of change.

Erica Thompson, a researcher from Imperial College in London, came over on the bus expecting to witness at first hand history being made - or failing to be made, depending on what happens this week.

As it was, her experience of the supposedly seminal UN climate summit was nine-and-a-half hours in a queue.

Toilet breaks? Forget them. Food was procured by phoning inside and asking colleagues to buy some and bring it out - which of course prevented the person doing the bringing from getting back in.

Something to tell the grand-kids about? Hmm...

What Erica and the others would have witnessed if they'd made it in is a little difficult to describe. Or at least we journalists found it hard to describe to our editors, as they struggled to understand the meaning of the words we had filed.

Was it a walkout? Erm, not really. Was it a boycott? No. So what precisely had African nations and other G77 member governments done? They'd taken their political football and stowed it... where?

journos_ap226.jpgThe news reporting of the whatever it was - we plumped for "suspension" - evolved as fast as a 'flu strain hopping across a menagerie of susceptible species.

First, it was the Africans who had walked out. Then it became clear that the "walkout" had support from the G77/China bloc. Then it appeared it wasn't really a walkout. Then the talking was going to resume; then it had resumed. Only finally did it emerge that what talking there was carried only informal status and wasn't a formal negotiation.

Across the vast expanse of the Bella Center, confusion reigned.

In a semi-deserted hall, at one end I tracked down two delegates from African governments who assured me talks wouldn't resume until the next morning. Half a hall away, a knowledgeable person from a prominent charity told me a negotiating session was already underway.

Further down the corridor, it became clear that both were wrong. Talking there was, but negotiation there was not.

Apologies, on behalf of the entire journalistic enterprise here, if we presented a confused picture. It'll be neither the first nor the last time that happens in this amorphous, shape-shifting, jargon-raddled process.

But at least we could witness the stuff we'd come to observe, and could write what we observed, powered by sandwiches and coffee - luxurious circumstances compared with the passionate, parched and passless lockoutees on the wrong side of the Bella Center's cordon sanitaire.

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