Climate Change / ILRI

Copenhagen madness – Patti Kristjanson reflects on a week at COP15

‘So what was it like at COP15’? A tough question to answer. I think my colleague from England summed it up best in his quintessential low-key British manner – ‘it was madness’. But well organized madness, I must say. There can’t be many nationalities apart from the Danish that could have managed and coped with over 40,000 visitors over a 2-week period so well.

Copenhagen’s public transport system was impressive. With no gates, fees, tickets, or hassle to deal with throughout the conference period – it was superb. And with everyone speaking English and extremely helpful, it was very easy to get around.

It was like going to Disneyland in many ways. They managed the waiting lines just as impressively. And the security checks were much less painful than most airports.

The energy in the air was palpable. By the time you got back to your hotel room (or cruise ship room, in my case), your senses were pretty much on overload. Young, idealistic (and pretty ignorant in the global scheme of things) people accosted you and vied for your attention everywhere you went.

In the huge main venue, the Bella Centre (think indoor arena the size of a football stadium) was filled with stands, posters, and people being interviewed, surrounded by journalists and followed by cameramen.

Groups of young people in matching T-shirts held impromptu skits and chants with posters informing us about the disappearing glaciers in Kathmandu. Vegans thrust sandwiches in your hands as you exited the Metro, and they were very tasty, I must say, although I believe that the message to eat less meat in the developed world is fine, but potentially harmful for the developing world where poor women cannot own land, but can own livestock and therefore can be empowered with more support. Their enthusiasm was admirable, yet their ignorance pretty scary.

Flyers, DVD’s, brochures, reports and one-pagers were available on hundreds of stands and being handed to you as you walked into and out of buildings and meeting rooms. We were clearly there to save the planet. By tomorrow.

We did our best to get agriculture and the millions of smallholder farm families that depend on farming for food security throughout the developing world ‘on the agenda’, as they say. We’ll see. Agriculture and food security issues were highlighted on the very first Agriculture Day to be held at such a climate conference. At this event, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, gave an inspiring talk that encompassed the challenges smallholders in the developing world face, but also the opportunities for them to not only adapt to the climate changes they are facing, but also to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Forest Day was a high profile event, garnering an increasing recognition that the trees planted by millions of poor families on their farms for their fruit, timber, fodder and soil fertility enhancement are critical for helping them deal with their rapidly changing environments, while reducing global warming.

There was no shortage of Nobel Laureates and other famous names giving presentations to huge audiences in impressive theatres (and this is well before the heads of State showed up) – Elinor Ostrom, Ravendra Pachauri, Wangari Maathai, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore, among others. They were all inspiring. Teachers throughout the world should try to get their hands on these clips as they are all wonderful role models, and in this day and age, we should be getting such speeches out much more widely (project idea?).

I write this as the jury is still out on COP15. I remain hopeful that Obama will make a commitment on the U.S. side that will mean that the madness is not just declared a failure. I predict that he will continue to give the world hope and inspiration. Just like all those young and enthusiastic activists would like to.

Fingers crossed!

Patti Kristjanson, CGIAR

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