Copenhagen: How to turn delegates into protesters

Updated on
The World

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The climate summit may have hit a wall Monday, but the organizers did manage to unite conference-goers in outrage at the chaotic security procedures that left thousands of delegates and journalists stranded outside for up to 10 hours.

Belarussian students, Japanese former government ministers, Palestinian development workers, Chinese photographers, Brazilian journalists, Pakistani scientists and U.S. academics were among those unanimous in their condemnation of the United Nations' inability to run an effective accreditation system for the global warming summit.

"The U.N. is not the U.N. anymore, there is no respect for anybody," said a tearful Svetlana Morozova, as she was turned away from the gate by Danish police officers despite having successfully applied for accreditation to the conference.

Morozova, a student and environmental campaigner, was inconsolable, saying she saved for months to pay for the trip to Copenhagen out of her own pocket for the chance to lobby the Belarus government delegation and give a rare international voice to her country's environmentalists.

"It's out of order — the first time I've see such bad management," complained Toshiro Kojima, until recently Japan's vice-minister for global environmental affairs.

Copenhagen delegates
Thousands of accredited delegates wait outside the Copenhagen conference, Dec. 14, 2009.
(Paul Ames/GobalPost)

Government delegates were given fast-track entry, but in his new position as special advisor to the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Kojima was forced to join the shivering masses.

"They talk about accountability and transparency and then there's this, with no explanation," he said. "If they are doing so badly outside, you have to ask if they have the same bad management inside."

In fact, behind the closed doors of the Bella Center conference hall, talks were suspended for several hours when developing countries walked out in support of African delegates who accused richer nations of seeking to kill of the Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrialized nations to legally binding greenhouse gas reductions.

Talks eventually resumed, but the delay added to the increasingly frenzied nature of efforts to cobble together the basis of an emission-reducing agreement before the world's prime ministers and presidents arrive for the conclusion of the summit at the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the organizational problems seem sure to worsen as the summit nears its climax. U.N. officials acknowledged that the organization had accepted registration for more than 45,000 people at the conference, which is being held in an exhibition center with a capacity of 15,000.

Delegates had to apply for accreditation online, but once accepted were supposed to pick up their passes at the conference center itself. With the U.N. unable to cope with the descending crowds, they were left in the cold under the overhead railway lines outside.

Shortly before the accreditation desk was due to close at 6 p.m. a U.N. official appeared to announce that those still outside the gates should go home and try their luck the next day. Many had been waiting since the desk opened at 8 a.m.

Shouts of "Shame on the U.N.," and "Let us in," drowned out the official's offer of a "personal apology." He turned his back on the crowd's appeal and walked back the conference center, ignoring calls of "Work late, work late."

Many were baffled that the accreditation desk had been closed on Sunday, when large numbers of delegates hoping to attend the second week of the talks flew into the Danish capital.

Danish police were left to bear the brunt of the crowd's anger during the day. They insisted they were acting under the orders of the U.N. and admitted they had insufficient communication with the organizers, blaming them for failing to respond to officers' appeals for information that could be passed on to the crowd.

About 6,000 police — about half Denmark's total — have been mobilized for the summit, with several thousand more on standby. As well as providing security in the suburban conference venue, many are deployed in the city center to deal with protests, which turned violent over the weekend.

Ironically, the crowd outside the conference was sustained only by a group of vegan protesters, some dressed as chickens, who handed out tomato sandwiches. Entertainment was occasionally provided by a handful of Australian protesters who had adapted the words of "Waltzing Matilda" into musical criticism of Canberra's coal export policies.

In a belated attempt to limit the number of conference-goers, the U.N. imposed last-minute limits on the number of delegates each NGO can send, thwarting the hopes of a large majority of the 22,000 NGO representatives, many of whom traveled at considerable expense from Africa, Asia or Latin America to attend the talks.

"I've been to a lot of international conferences, but I've never seen anything like this. There is no organization," said Qamar Chaudhry, director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

"There was nothing like this in Bali or Nairobi," said Phil Thornhill, of Britain's Campaign Against Climate Change, as he recalled previous climate change conferences.

With security expected to tighten ahead of the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and over 100 other world leaders, the situation could well get more complicated.