A sleepless night waiting for the sun on the horizon of the Copenhagen Climate change summit, by Ninni Ikkala, IUCN Climate Change Coordinator.
Friday 18th December, the final official day of the conference. Expectations were high, security was high – you could spot Sarkozy, Lula da Silva and Ahmadinejad in the corridors and if you were lucky, snap a photo of the big and mighty. The most expected guest arrived on Air Force One to deliver the most expected speech. Most of us huddled in front of TV screens in the hallways to hear them speak – we were all in the same building, but the speeches were taking place behind tight security. Obama’s speech was a disappointment, as was the string of those that came before and after – there was little new to say.
The day entailed a lot of waiting and trying to get copies of the draft decision text – in the end, I heard 8 different versions were circulating, all largely disappointing and far from what the world had hoped for from the biggest conference of all times. As the day turned to evening we were still unclear what was happening and started to pack our bags to head back to the hotel. I stayed for one last dry and tasteless Bella Centre dinner and then, before midnight, things finally started moving…
TV channels started blasting Obama’s speech to White House – US, China, India and South Africa had signed a deal. Inside the Bella Centre, we were none the wiser than audiences at home – was there really a deal? What was in this deal? The EU scheduled a press conference, the UNFCCC scheduled a plenary meeting, both of which kept being postponed. Around 2 a.m. EC President José Manuel Barroso confirmed there was a deal that 20 or so countries had agreed upon, it was better than no deal, but fell short of the EU’s expectations.
Those of us remaining in the Conference Centre started drifting to the main plenary room for the grand finale meeting, which started at around 3 a.m.! The night-time negotiations were full of emotions, intrigue and debate – how could 20 odd countries draft a deal without consulting the 192 signatories to the UNFCCC? The draft deal was weak, and no one was truly happy. However, the prospect of having nothing to show for days of work and sleepless nights, of coming out to say “we failed” was too much for too many and several countries started speaking up for the deal. In particular, I recall the heartfelt speeches of Grenada, Maldives, Norway and the UK. They said the deal would provide financing desperately needed by developing countries and that it finally set a global 2°C target – it was a start. But could we have a deal unless there was unanimous consensus? The plenary took time out to take stock for a couple of hours. By now, many delegates had fallen asleep on their tables. The coffee machine was broken. We were all in it together and everyone was talking to everyone – an unexpected solidarity formed amidst the tired delegates who filled the conference room.
9.30 a.m. – we had a new Chair who got up on the podium and reconvened the meeting, summarized the consultations with country groupings, announced we had a “Copenhagen Accord” of which the COP “took note” (hence allowing for countries not to sign on to it), he banged the hammer – we had a deal. We stood up, we clapped, in a surreal tired haze – was this deal better than no deal at all? From the back door, you could see the sun was already high up on snowy Copenhagen.