From the TUC

Copenhagen diary 1: Politicians talk, Leaders act

07 Dec 2009, by in Environment

This is the first of a series of diaries from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Philip and colleagues on the ITUC delegation will be reporting for ToUChstone blog on the progress of the Conference and of union lobbying for the Just Transition we need to any new green economy.

A banner draped across the prow of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, anchored here in Copenhagen harbour, says “Politicians talk, Leaders act”. This morning, as we enter the UN conference centre on the outskirts of the city, past the drums and chants of younger delegates, we pass beneath one of two inflatable archways erected by NGOs, one says Leaders this way and the other, Politicians.

The mood, it must be said, combines determination with realisation: it may take a year to reach a binding deal. At the opening plenary, UN Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said that “the time for restating well known positions is over. The time has come to reach out to each other”. The focus must be on solid, practical proposals to bring all parties to an agreement. This afternoon, at the start of negotiations, Marie-Louise Knuppert, LO Denmark’s Confederal Secretary, will set out the ITUC’s views of a Shared Vision for the new agreement.

On the bus yesterday to collect my delegate’s credentials I got talking to an NGO delegate from Samoa. He had just finished a pre-conference video for national TV. A few more centimeters rise in sea level will inundate much of his Pacific islands. Immediate threats arise from “king tides”, and more frequent hurricanes, the most recent of which destroyed the equivalent of three years’ GDP growth. Small Island States demand a maximum 1.5°C rise in global mean temperatures, equal to a CO2 concentration of 350 parts of CO2 per million (350ppm). For many, “adaptation funds” will be meaningless.

In that case, we are halfway to the temperature threshold already. In his opener, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, catalogued the global changes taking place, including: “In the 20th century, average global temperature increased by 0.74°C, while sea level rise resulting from thermal expansion of the ocean and melting ice across the glob amounted to 17cm. With this increase, the Maldive Islands several other small island states and low lying areas like Bangladesh with land surface barely a meter or two above sea level, find that every storm surge and major upwelling of the sea represents a serious danger to life and property.”

The ITUC group that I’m here with meets daily at 9am to plan the day, and at 6.30 to review strategy. This means monitoring negotiations, meeting governments, making interventions, and contributing two union pages to a daily bulletin. We’re also opening up the morning meeting to a debate with new delegates or on a key theme. The numbers in the morning meeting are building towards the 320 registered with the ITUC.

As the Copenhagen Mayor has told us, the city aims to be carbon neutral by 2035. You can swim in the harbour it’s so clean – nice if it wasn’t already icing up a little.

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