Monday, November 30, 2009

The First Day at the Conference - From Becca

Hey All!

In the previous post, Olivia documented our harried arrival and first night, as well as the friendliness and hospitality not only of our roommates but of the other delegates. After some stilted attempts at familiarity, we eventually settled in to work.

After breakfast at 7:30 (!!!), we walked to the City Hall to begin our day. The previous night, the other delegations had split themselves among a variety Program Group “interest groups”. Each interest group focused on a different aspect climate change, including a Climate Ambassador Program group, a COP Message group, an Advocacy and Political Strategy group, an Urbanization group, and others. Since we weren’t assigned, we decided among ourselves who would attend which interest group. There was an immediate internal struggle to determine who would be a part of the COP Message group, the official drafting group for the resolution. Each interest group would report their findings and concerns to the drafting group, and the resolution would be additionally revised by the workshops in the afternoon. My inclination was not the drafting group, but the Advocacy and Political Strategy group.

During the meeting that morning, we first discussed general methods of persuasion, and how they could be utilized most effectively. We ended up with a rudimentary list of essential approaches, including, but not limited to, relating the argument to the opposition in a personal way, utilizing all channels of information to surround the listener, organizing to work together, and the importance of choosing words carefully. This doesn’t seem like much of a result, but the means to the ends, the discussion involved, was really eye opening. Anand of India, Edsón of Bolivia, Toia of Switzerland, and Ragnar of Iceland all told of particularly moving narratives, ranging from the tangible effects of climate change in India (Anand) to Toia’s impassioned opposition of a new law that will appear on the Swiss ballot banning minarets in Switzerland. We then moved on to a demonstration that showcased interdependence, and we discussed further the role each country plays on the global scale and the influence each has over another. We finished up by summarizing the techniques that should be used in the resolution to effectively convey our concerns.

After the interest groups, we each chose a workshop to attend. I was intrigued by Climate Justice. At the workshop, we discussed the disparity between the major polluters and those who are affected most. Axam from the Maldives described how of the 1197 islands, only 200 are inhabited. Tsunamis, like the one in 2004, destroy the fresh water available to the sparse population, and these disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity as global warming affects the water levels and temperature. He explained how the max elevation was only around 1 meter, and how the islands can be rendered uninhabitable. We then split into smaller groups, where my group focused on refining the message about climate justice that would be included in the drafting group. After much debating over minutiae, we categorized our ideas into seven focus points: funding, cooperation, accountability, morality, optimization of energy, a multi-faceted approach, and individual action. Funding incorporated ideas such as a fund to help drastically affected nations recover and the contribution of developed nations both to retrofit their own systems and to help developing nations start off on the right foot towards a greener future. Cooperation, rather simplistically, emphasized the importance of climate change as a global issue and encouraged the collaboration and aid of countries around the world. Accountability established a consistent system for measuring carbon emissions and an enforceable timeline with plausible benchmarks. Morality referred to the idea that climate justice was an ethical issue for individuals, not just a business opportunity for governments. We spent a lot of time discussing optimization of energy, or how technology would have to be adapted to different regions based on their specific needs and resources. “A multi-faceted approach” was championed by Alex from Luxembourg, who emphasized that ending climate change could not be accomplished without helping the destitute escape poverty. Finally, and individual approach merely reiterated that an individual can in fact contribute to the ending of the disparity between developed and developing nations. This workshop was my favorite of the day.

During lunch I talked to Ragnar about the differences in public opinion regarding climate change in his home, Iceland, and in the US. We started talking about how Iceland has a fantastic source of geothermal energy, and how 70% of its total energy consumption comes from renewable sources, yet the public is generally apathetic. I thought this was really intriguing, considering Iceland will be one of the first countries affected by melting ice and rising sea levels. This is the opposite of the situation in the US, where more than half the country understands the dangers of climate change yet is unwilling to act.

During the afternoon, everyone gathered for  a discussion on communication between the delegates, which was hindered by rapid speaking (by those for whom English was their first language) and the delay caused by translations. The delegations from the Maldives, Andorra, Boliva, Brazil, and Haiti all brought along translators, though I was still impressed by EVERYONE’S command of the English language.

After dinner we were treated to a spectacular: outside city hall was a giant Christmas tree covered in lights. We were told to our great amusement that the lights would be powered by politicians riding stationary bikes (!!). Dancing around the tree were people dressed up as pandas with flames coming out of their heads (!!!!). The star on top was lit by Santa, who climbed a fire truck ladder and set off a firework display (intentional). Much to our relief, Santa returned unharmed, and the tree was really beautiful. We then renovated our depressingly empty exhibition board (save for a coming soon sign) and worked on the cultural presentation we would give to our host school the next day (the host schools were all Danish high schools chosen to show us around the city and present workshops during the week). After much frenzied cutting and taping, we headed back to the hostel and socialized for a while, which was great.

Congratulations, reaching the end of this post is a feat in and of itself! I’ll try to keep the others shorter, but I’m really excited about being here and I want to explain everything. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to post tomorrow too, but we’ll see. Stay tuned, and thanks!

Santa lighting the tree

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