Climate conference organizers asked for trouble in Copenhagen

Commentary, Climate, Tom Harris


It is not surprising that climate campaigners became increasingly aggressive during 2009, eventually resorting to violent conflicts with police on the streets of Copenhagen at year’s end.  While activists had finally succeeded in getting most politicians to sing from the same song sheet – the Earth supposedly stands on the brink of a man-made climate catastrophe, leaders recited one after another at the United Nations climate conference in December – environmental groups have totally failed to convince governments to take actions that are even remotely commensurate with the alleged threat. 

Yes, politicians have invested billions of taxpayer dollars ostensibly trying to ‘stop climate change’, an absurd concept on a planet where climate has always changed – after all, the only constant about climate IS change.  But, if the climate Armageddon hypothesis was correct, we would need many times the levels of emission reductions currently promised by western governments.  Scientists on all sides of the debate know this.  Most political leaders do as well.  But they seem to think that if they say the right things about the supposed crisis, no one will expect them to really implement the sort of policy that would logically follow if such rhetoric were scientifically justified. No wonder true believers are frustrated.  It is akin to world leaders unanimously acknowledging that the planet was about to be hit with a civilization-destroying asteroid but responded by merely pledging tax rebates for citizens to reinforce their roofs.

There have been other serious frustrations for climate activists of late, as well.  Global warming stubbornly refuses to resume after stopping about seven years ago while carbon dioxide, Al Gore’s misnamed ‘global warming pollution’, continues to rise unabated.  Climategate revealed that several of the most prominent of the IPCC’s scientists have tried to ‘hide the decline’ and block skeptical scientists from being published.  Also contrary to UN forecasts, extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tornados are not on the rise and, since the 1970s, sea level has dropped in places such as The Maldives, the UN poster child country for the supposed sea level threat.  Finally, polar bears inconveniently continue to reproduce faster than they are dying and the list of other climatic nonevents seems to lengthen monthly.  Even more frightening for activists, polls show that the public is progressively coming to believe that they have been taken for a ride on man-made climate change and that it was probably never a serious threat in the first place.

Under such depressing circumstances (for activists, that is – normal people are relieved to hear that their children are unlikely to face a climate crisis), one would think that the UN and Denmark, the host country for ‘Hopenhagen’, December’s UN Climate Change Conference, would pull out all the stops to ensure that at least the fundamental logistics supporting the thousands of non governmental organization (NGO) representatives invited to the conference would work like a well-oiled machine.  After all, with the climate scare rapidly falling apart, it would not take much to push these unhappy people off into full blown rioting.

But the exact opposite was the case.  While in Copenhagen for the conference, I witnessed first hand how the UN and Danish Foreign Ministry helped create a situation in which even greater upset of NGOs was virtually guaranteed. The authorities did this by authorizing far more NGO representatives admission to the conference than there was ever the remotest chances of accommodating and then waiting until it was too late to organize an alternative meeting.  Here is how they accomplished this feat of unbelievable incompetence for the largest meeting even held in Denmark.

The UNFCCC allowed something in the neighborhood of 30,000 NGO participants to be officially registered for the 7 – 19 December 2009 climate conference in the Danish capital.  Problem was, Copenhagen’s Bella Center, where the main meetings were held, only has a capacity of 15,000, so perhaps the UN did not expect more than half of registered NGO delegates to actually show up.  After all, Copenhagen in December is certainly not Bali or Nigeria where previous UN climate get-togethers were held during early winter in the northern hemisphere – Danes dream of going south then as much as Canadians do.  Besides the fact that Copenhagen has only about seven hours of daylight in December (being at the same latitude as Labrador, Canada), temperatures hover around freezing and it is usually cloudy at this time of year.  So cloudy, in fact, that on several days during my stay, light sensitive street lights came on early in the afternoon as if it was nighttime – no wonder the Danes are fascinated with light – candles and blazing Christmas lights are found everywhere in this small but fascinatingly ancient country!

Perhaps sensing that the public in many nations are awaking to the fact that they have largely been ‘had’ on climate change, activists came to the big show en mass for a intensive ‘last chance’ full court press on politicians anxious to showcase their green credentials to the world (although still frightened of the related economics).  Happily for me, and the International Climate Science Coalition, as an officially sanctioned “Non-governmental Observer” (arranged months earlier through our allies and UNFCCC channels), I only had to wait for two hours in an outdoor queue in the first week to obtain my official bar-coded photo ID pass to get into the conference.  For several days thereafter, I was able to enter the conference relatively quickly through checkpoints that made most airport security look lax (besides the concrete barriers and high fences now commonplace at such events, well-armed police with large guard dogs and soldiers outnumbered delegates in places).  I was then able to go about my business in the Bella Center with ease, distributing ICSC handout packages to media and engaging in discussion with national representatives from many countries.

But early in the second week, the situation changed dramatically. By now the registration line stretched for at least four hours and, with the arrival of the Nobel Prize winning patron saint of global warming, the “Al Gore Effect” subjected hopeful, but increasingly disgruntled delegates to severe (for Copenhagen) sub-zero temperatures as they shivered in line.  With only a handful of the available security check-points open, Bella Center staff were completely unable to cope with the massive influx of official NGO registrants for the crucial second week of the conference and the lines grew still further.  Many officially registered NGO representatives, despite having travelled from the far corners of the Earth, eventually gave up attempts to get the essential UNFCCC photo ID card and went to the mostly amateurish extreme left wing ‘civil society’ events in the city, or, for those who could, returned home, having wasted a king’s ransom in expenses.

However, even this inadequate entry system broke down by mid-week and conference organizers announced that only some of those from each NGO delegation who already had their photographic IDs would be allowed to pass through security into the Bella Center.  This now meant that, to get into the conference, one needed to be, first, an official UNFCCC NGO registrant, second, have the UNFCCC photo ID pass and, third, be the proud possessor of a second pass that indicated you were among the few chosen from your delegation to actually gain admission.

Finally, for the crucial last two days of the two week mega-event, the very time NGOs had dug deep into their coffers to be able to finance their representatives to attend in the first place, only 300 special third passes were issued to a highly select few. Without this new pass, as well as the previous three documents, 99% of the thousands of officially registered NGO representatives were completely barred from entering the Bella Center. How the UNFCCC chose this privileged group was not announced.

In response to NGO threats to storm the center (some tried and were quickly arrested) and in an effort to salvage what was left of the UNFCCC’s and Danish Foreign Ministry’s credibility, an official off-site venue for those who had successfully endured freezing registration lines and so possessed the UN photo ID badge was finally announced Wednesday evening for Thursday and Friday, the last two days of the conference (see  Held at Copenhagen’s cavernous Forum, with four 20 foot screens suspended from the ceiling and fed live from the Bella Center, it promised to be a massive event with thousands of concerned activists anxiously awaiting the latest updates from world leaders engaged in saving the planet.

However, by then it was too late and NGOs had either arranged their own side events, renting other facilities in the city, hit the streets to help fuel the protest marches or left the city in disgust for parts unknown.  The massive hall stood essentially empty by Thursday evening with only 30 die hard campaigners watching the first word leaders‘ speeches.  Friday afternoon, when negotiations inside the Bella Center were most intense, only about 100 of the thousands of NGO reps even bothered to show up at the event arranged by the Danish Foreign Ministry. 

Copenhagen has the markings of being the last really big hurrah for massive UN-backed climate change conferences.  Let’s hope so.  Having totally failed politically and logistically, and thoroughly alienating everyone involved in this exorbitantly expensive process, Copenhagen should stand as a symbol of all that has gone wrong with the climate change movement.  Originally well intentioned, though often misguided, climatism, as it is now being labeled, has largely morphed into an ungainly politically motivated machine that is more about money that it is about saving the environment.  With its blind adherence to dogmatic beliefs that simply do not match observational evidence, it is time real environmentalists abandoned this horse and got back to the basics – land, air and water pollution, issues we know we can handle properly with sufficient public interest and good will.