Lockdown at Copenhagen

By Pascale Palmer
December 17, 2009

It’s lockdown here in the Danish capital. But with about 100 police staying at my hotel, breakfast is a very safe affair. And this morning, as I headed to a madly crowded tube station I watched a huddle of boys in blue (although I think they’re in black) singing in unison and clapping their hands to keep off the cold, before they set off to tackle the day’s tasks.

The Bella Centre is a series of security siphons with more and more areas shut off from NGOs and media, as heads of states hit their stride in the negotiations. Yesterday saw a huge cut in civil society passes, prompting protests at the entrance to the conference, and a mass sleep-in so people could ensure they had access to the talks today.

Of course the media has been all over the protests like a rash, and frankly it’s a far easier story to get across than what is actually going on inside the meeting rooms here in Copenhagen. With the summit appearing to be making little progress on emissions cuts by the richest countries and long-term finance for the poorest, it’s a tangle of low ambitions against the crucial need to meet high expectations.

But going back to limited NGO access: what does it actually mean to the talks? I imagine a lot of people think the role of NGOs is to campaign and shout from the sidelines. And some will associate the work of these different groups only with the images of direct actions, such as scaling the Houses of Parliament or living for months in a tree to prevent a new road being built. And it’s true that a lot of NGOs use this tool very successfully to highlight important issues and bring about discussion and change. But there’s more to it.

Here in Copenhagen, CAFOD’s experts on climate finance and climate policy have been working night and day to gather information, analyse it and decide whether the discussions are moving in the right direction for a fair and legally binding deal. The rich countries at the talks have many, many people on hand to brief their negotiators and ministers and heads of state on the progress across all strands of the negotiations. This ability to share the workload means rich nations often have the upper hand in terms of knowledge and energy when it comes to hammering out agreement. Some developing countries only have one or two people at the talks, are negotiating all night, and still need to be present for meetings the next day.

NGOs such as CAFOD are vital to ensure these understaffed nations are briefed on the progress and ramifications of decisions made and proposals announced. Without them, many nations will be at a massive disadvantage when facing the organised might of richer governments. In this way, the NGOs go some way to bridging the power gap so that talks can be as fair and constructive as possible.

Denying the majority of NGOs access to the Bella Centre over these final two days, citing security as the reason, means many of the poorest nations are having their ability to negotiate weakened. When the world needs a deal that is sustainable and equitable, with solutions for the poorest at its core, this situation is lamentable.


Pascale Palmer is blogging from Copenhagen for Ekklesia and is CAFOD's advocacy media officer

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.