Folding the hopes of thousands
From the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan:
Everywhere in Nagoya, there is origami.
Arriving at the airport, I was presented with an origami crane; more adorn my hotel room.
Origami cranes symbolise hopes for agreement on protecting the real thing
At the conference centre, which houses the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting for the next two weeks, origami animals and fish adorn a globe, with paper cut into geometric countries and continents.
Japanese conservationists encourage youngsters to hone their origami skills, on cranes and more.
It's tempting to see symbolism everywhere:
- government delegates, like the children, attempting to represent complex real-world issues with two-dimensional pieces of (conference) paper;
- major, society-encompassing issues such as the expansion of agriculture, burgeoning use of natural resources and emissions of pollutants folded into the single issue of biodiversity;
- the hopes and aspirations of a cohort of Copenhagen-saddened concerned people folded into a fortnight in a single city.
All of these representations are to some extent accurate; yet like the origami cranes, none of them does justice to the real thing.
Conserving life across the planet is a simple aim - but against the complexities of modern society, including the growth of the human population and the near-universal desire for economic growth, its enactment is far from simple.
Making a biodiversity agreement will be more challenging than making paper cranes
If it were, we wouldn't be here now.
The UN Environment Programme sees this meeting as a key moment - a time ripe for action.
The main reason is that 2010 was the year by which governments had pledged to be sorting it out - if not to have stopped nature loss, to have curbed it significantly. It has not happened, by a long way.
So, like children who have failed exams, delegates meet to discuss why, and what to do next.
As a result, attendance and profile are higher than for most CBD meetings.
Governments, including the UK's, have been talking about the issue noticeably more than in previous years.
There will be more journalists here than usual; and a number of environment groups that range across the piece have made biodiversity a priority issue for 2010.
To that extent, it's a miniature version of the Copenhagen climate summit. That too saw an unfamiliar priority given to an environmental issue - the difference being that Copenhagen commanded presidents and prime ministers.
The comparison is not a fortunate one for champions of biodiversity, given how Copenhagen panned out.
And the bitter developed-v-developing country dynamic that played a major part in scuppering negotiations there is being felt here too.
It may be, as the UN believes, that this is a key moment to sort out some sort of comprehensive regime for protecting nature.
But many, including the UN, believed that last December was a key moment for sorting out climate change.
Origami cranes are given in Japan as good luck charms. Fold a thousand of them, and a real crane will grant a wish.
The paper-folders of Nagoya have certainly done their part in preparation for this meeting. We'll see whether their charms have been enough as the fornight unfolds.