Reporting from Copenhagen
Copenhagen’s mall-sized Bella Center, the command center for the largest climate change gathering ever convened, has exceeded its capacity, and thousands of registered civil society groups are now being asked to leave.
The move is raising the ire of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who say they are being cut out of the process for global warming action that they, in part, built.
Their absence in the crucial final days of the conference will be a blow to poor nations who rely on NGO assistance to get their voices heard, the NGOs say, and it will keep out non-governmental experts who could quickly analyze any proposed deals, leaving the world hearing only the claims of politicians.
"The UN over the years has relied on civil society and NGOs to advance this agenda," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.
"We would not be sitting here at this summit if it was not for the leadership of grassroots organizations."
The restricted access comes when negotiations are at a critical point. Heads of government have started trickling into the Danish capital to hammer out the final framework for a global treaty to prevent dangerous climate change, with more than 110 world leaders expected by Friday.
Observers believe that developing nations will be most harmed by the new restrictions because they rely on NGOs to supplement their delegations on individual country and bloc levels.
"Negotiators from those countries are tremendously under-resourced here," explained Friends of the Earth spokesman Nick Berning, who was among those kept out of the Bella Center on Wednesday.
"I’ve worked with negotiators who have no media officers to help them communicate their position. They are totally out-gunned by the massive delegations of the rich countries, and now thanks to the UN’s decision to exclude us, they will have even less support inside the Bella Center to fight for a fair agreement."
The situation reached its climax Wednesday morning when members of Friends of the Earth International and the environmental group Avaaz were told by security officials their badges "were no longer valid" and were asked to leave the Bella Center.
FOE members said they were surprised by the sudden stripping of access.
Most NGOS have seen a dramatic decrease in their number of badges, Anna Mitchell, a spokeperson for Oxfam International, told SolveClimate. Oxfam and its partners received badges for 90 people. By Friday, however, with heads of state at the conference, only three will be able to get in, Mitchell said.
About 50 individuals held a spontaneous sit-in in the center’s reception area in protest. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer met with the group and suggested meeting with 25 of their leaders to find a resolution. At the same time, some 3,000 protesters outside attempted to storm the Bella Center.
De Boer has assumed full blame for the mayhem.
"It’s my fault," he told reporters. The problem, he said, is that 46,600 individuals were given the green-light to get into the Bella Center, a building which holds 15,000.
Over 22,700 of those approved come from international and non-governmental groups, according to numbers from the UNFCCC.
On Wednesday, only 3,000 of them will get access to the belly of the beast. The number of NGO badges will shrink to 1,000 on Thursday, if that.
On Friday, the last and most crucial day of talks, 500 NGO participants will be allowed in, the UNFCCC said.
The Climate Action Network, a group representing several non-governmental organizations, called the restrictions "unjustifiable."
Civil society "brings insight, oversight and connection to people around the world," who depend on the work of NGOs to pursue "credibility" and "integrity" of the process," the group wrote in a letter to the UNFCCC.
The big concern, Oxfam’s Mitchell said, is that world leaders will announce, "we have a great deal." But "there will be very few people in there to say look at the detail, look at what we really got."
"Any perception that the process is closed or rigged would severely undermine the prospects for success in Copenhagen," said the Climate Action Network.
De Boer responded: This is "the most transparent climate change conference that I have ever witnessed in the 14 that I have been to."
The measure is nothing more than a security precaution, he said. It would be "physically impossible" and "unsafe" to accommodate everyone.
Mitchell said the NGOs understood that position, to a point. "We have some sympathy with the UN," she said. "We understand the need to maintain security."
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