Snow is falling in Copenhagen- fat, wet flakes of the white stuff wrapping Denmark’s capital city in a soft blanket of peace. The sparkling Christmas lights of the holiday season and quiet stillness of the winter weather provide an unexpected finish to a radical day of protests, police beat downs and the ever intensifying COP15 negotiations process. The juxtaposition between the two realities is undeniably moving, casting a weird question mark over the final 2 days of the climate change conference that, despite all that has transpired thus far- or not transpired- makes you believe once again, however foolish it may seem, in hope.
The trouble wasn’t just in the streets today- inside the bursting at the seams Bella Center, several non-government agencies like Friends of the Earth and the Third World Network clashed with conference administrators over access while others walked out in the heat of negotiations in a show of solidarity with the thousands of people rallying outside and facing down tear gas, water canons, snarling dogs, and police batons. As for the delegates and leaders from around the world- you know, the people actually charged with hashing out the raison d’etre for the conference- hope still bubbles from many of them that a deal of some sort is possible before the party ends on Friday but what exactly that deal will look like is entirely up in the air.
This morning, Operation Copenhagen arrived at the Bella Center to the sounds of drums banging and tensions rising. A legally sanctioned rally- The Push for Climate Change-had been at it since early in the morning, thousands of activists gathering at separate train stations before making their way to the conference headquarters in hopes of “pushing” through security walls and gaining access to the center in an undeniable- albeit illegal- show support for sweeping climate change fighting legislation.
Things spun out of control quickly and before long Operation Copenhagen, along with masses and hordes of media folk peppered about, were having tear gas for breakfast. Others were being served something much worse- their legal right to gather revoked by order of the government in a response to the deteriorating situation- the police worked to disperse the crowds with their batons blazing. Stuck on the front lines of the surging crowd, we watched as men and women were beaten, shoved and driven back with a slow and steady procession of armored vans, more than 260 of them eventually arrested.
There are many different ways to start your day but watching on helplessly as a woman is dragged away by her throat and being bludgeoned over the head with a bat by a 6 ft tall, riot gear clad police officer is not one that i recommend. The shocking images continued throughout the morning as the the ebb and flow of the protest played out; the masses would surge and the cops would surge back, things would calm and then undercover cops would rush out of the crowd quickly- dragging with them a specific protester or two- and then the mob would rage again.
But make no mistake, as horrific as some of the images may be, the police who erred on the side of restraint far outnumbered those who took the violent approach. It was a gruesome, occasionally dangerous and oddly reassuring dance to watch as the undeniable burn of tear gas filled the air.
On the inside of the Bella Center, NGO groups being denied access to the conference due to space limitations held a protest of their own early in the afternoon though it was a much more civil affair than what was transpiring in the streets and, as a result, the power that be responded by providing an additional venue, starting tomorrow, just for the NGO’s . As for the negotiations themselves, despite the continued gridlock on certain big issues, there were some victories today. Specifically, 6 developed nations- the United States included- pledged a total of $3.5 billion over the next three years to help fund the fight against deforestation in certain developing countries. Though not the preferred funding amount that advocates for this program had hoped for, it is, at least, a consensus of sorts to report- something which has been woefully lacking thus far in the soon to conclude negotiations process.
U.S. Senator John Kerry arrived today and, as one of the chief architects of the the federal climate bill currently in the Senate, optimists point to his arrival as a possible turning point in negotiations. With the world asking for it, the U.S. delegation here in Copenhagen is charged with hashing out a carbon reduction pledge and time line that rivals other developed nations and, perhaps more importantly, convincing people they will be able to have Congress eventually approve it so they can actually deliver the goods. “The United States is back and President Barack Obama is coming to Copenhagen to put America on the right side of history,” said Kerry, who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While it is certainly a nice sound bite, the jury is still out on what exactly the U.S. truly considers to be the right side of history. After all, our delegation has been denounced by many in the Bella Center halls for repeatedly asking language in the still-developing agreement to be changed from “shall” to “should”- a sure sign that hard and fast commitments are anything but the goal of the United States.
So that’s where Operation Copenhagen is at with less than 2 days to go. Who knows what, if anything, will come of all this bureaucratic horse trading, political posturing and civil unrest but one thing seems increasingly certain here in snowy Copenhagen- for those on the side of Mother Earth, time is running out.