As everyone probably knows, the Copenhagen Climate Summit (otherwise known as COP15, which by the way stands for the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties) took place towards the end of 2009. As part of the public activities, FoEI (Friends of the Earth International) organised a march called ‘The Flood’ to raise awareness about the need for a strong climate change agreement and to put pressure on the COP15 to deliver this. As part of this, thousands of people from Friends of the Earth groups all over the world travelled to Copenhagen to join in with ‘The Flood’ march and other climate-related events, of which I was one, travelling with other people from FoE England, Wales & Northern Ireland, as well as FoE Scotland.
So, on a cold Friday December morning at 4.30am we assembled at St. Pancras International station for our overland (no flying, naturally – it was Eurostar and coach) journey to Copenhagen. Despite a few delays, including a technical hitch with Eurostar, a closed motorway in The Netherlands, and two of our three coaches being stopped and searched at the Danish border, we eventually made it to our accommodation on the outskirts of Copenhagen at 2.30am Saturday (a couple of hours later for the searched coaches though).
Saturday morning beckoned, and we all set off to Copenhagen centre for ‘The Flood’. Much like ‘The Wave’ in London and other cities the week before, the theme was blue to symbolise rising sea levels. Thousands of people gathered close to the ‘Klimaforum’ (a people’s climate conference running parallel with the COP15) to start off on the march, with people from many countries evidenced by the variety of FoE banners. As well as those bedecked in blue there were many ingenious fancy dress outfits and props to add variety and a focused message, including some FoE Germany polar bears and their ‘Save Our Kids’ message, some burping & farting cows and pigs highlighting emissions from livestock, and also some chefs with the message: ‘Don’t Cook The Planet’. Our arrival was greeted with one marcher crowd-surfing ‘The Flood’ in an inflatable dingy! All very funny and light hearted, but with the very serious ultimate message to ‘Demand Climate Change’.
As we marched through the Copenhagen streets there was much music, singing and chanting, with “Earth is boiling, who’s the chef?”, “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Leave the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole, no offsetting, climate justice now!” Of course there were also regular Mexican Waves passing through the procession preceded by a wave of cheering. We also passed by the breathtaking ‘Ghost Forest’, which is an art installation of tropical rainforest tree stumps and root systems by the artist Angela Palmer. They are of a colossal scale, which really makes you appreciate what is being lost as part of rainforest destruction – more at http://www.ghostforest.org
Eventually we made it to the square adjacent to the Danish parliament, where the international FoE crowd gathered for a final giant Mexican Wave and the over-running of the ‘offsetting market’ which had been set up with its bluff carbon traders. All part of the pressure to get a strong international climate deal that doesn’t include ineffective carbon trading and offsetting. After that it was some well-earned warming soup and bread which NOAH (Friends of the Earth Denmark) had kindly organised for us.
More marchers arrived in the square over time to join in the mass public march from central Copenhagen out to the Bella Center where the COP15 conference was going on, some 6km away. Having arrived with ‘The Flood’ march we were poised for being pretty much at the head of the big march, so ended up mingling with a whole host of diverse groups, including groups from Tibet and Australia. Being at the front of the march we also managed to avoid the small bit of trouble that seemed to be going on further back, where a handful of troublemakers got a bit violent with the police. Unfortunately this led to the arrest of nearly 1000 people, which seemed a little over zealous given that they released over 900 of them the day after – they apparently even arrested two people in a pantomime cow outfit! Anyway, enough of the over-the-top policing. A few of us tagged along with the Australian group and their inflatable kangaroos for a while and joined in their repertoire of Aussie songs, including: ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie, cut that coal’ and the particularly funny ‘Sooty the coal kangaroo’. Jess from Camden FoE had her guitar with her, so we added a musical accompaniment to “Sooty, Sooty, Sooty the coal kangaroo. Sooty, Sooty, coal’s gonna screw me and you!”
One thing I found particularly encouraging was the amount of support from Copenhagen’s residents. Unlike in London for ‘The Wave’, most people seemed to be joining in the march, or at least showing their support, rather than carrying on with the Christmas shopping. People hung out of their windows, and many had put up messages and banners of support. Overall the whole city seemed to be immersed in the issue of climate change, with a series of installations all over the city seeking to educate people about the issue and its solutions. This certainly wasn’t just a side event to the usual business of the city.
Finally we made it to the Bella Center (well as close as security would let us), where a stage featured a variety of speakers including people from countries already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Overall estimates put the crowd at between 20,000 (police estimate) and 100,000 (organisers’ estimate), although having been in the throng of it all I would definitely pitch it nearer the 100,000 mark. I for one found it amazing that so many people from so many different places, from different backgrounds, and from all walks of life came together to put pressure on the COP15 to make Copenhagen count. It was a fantastic experience to be there and part of it all.
The rest of our two-day stay in Copenhagen was mostly taken up with regular visits to the Klimaforum, where there were a whole host of exhibitions and speakers giving talks on the many issues of, and solutions to, climate change, as well as a little after-party for the FoEI crowd on the Saturday evening. It was only a pity we weren’t there for the remainder of the week, as there was much more to get involved with, both in an activist way, and from an information perspective at the Klimaforum. It was an amazing weekend and I felt proud to be part of such a show of strength and concern about climate change, as well as spending time with such a knowledgeable, dedicated and generally lovely bunch of people.
Unfortunately the weight of people pressure and 100,000 voices didn’t seem to penetrate into the Bella Center, where the following week little progress was made on putting together a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Only in extra time the following weekend did anything which might loosely be described as progress actually come about, with the basis of a general vague agreement being thrashed out. Whilst this was a major disappointment, especially considering the build up to the COP15, it has at least not resulted in a weak ineffective deal being signed. Although there is much work to do, hopefully this will be a path to a decent deal coming forth at COP15.5 in Bonn this summer, or COP16 in Mexico towards the end of 2010. We certainly cannot afford to take pressure off our decision makers, and indeed we need to apply more, which BFoE will be continuing to do over the coming year. Meanwhile the lack of a fair and effective global climate deal should not stop us from taking action ourselves and asking others at a local level to do the same.
As covered in the last issue of the BFoE newsletter, the 10:10 campaign (http://www.1010uk.org) is an ideal opportunity to show support and make real change this year, so let’s keep applying the pressure, writing letters, telling people the facts and taking practical action to make real change against climate change.