This is my fourth time attending the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). My first one was COP 12, which took place in Nairobi in 2006. About 5000 people were present, including country delegates, people from civil society organisations and the media.
We all gathered at the headquarters of the UN Development Program (UNDP) in Nairobi. Security was tight and all events closed down before 6.00pm. I stayed at the Maryknoll house which is situated just outside Nairobi. As far as I can remember the only Head of State who attended was the president of Kenya.
The following year, COP 13 took place on the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia. It was housed in a complex of luxury hotels close to the beach. Because of the nightclub bombings in Bali some years previously, security was very tight. About 8000 people attended, among them two heads of State, the President of Indonesia and the, then, newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd.
The most memorable moment at the Bali meeting happened on the last evening when the US delegation was attempting to derail what became known as the Bali Road Map. In exasperation a negotiator from the republic of Vanuatu called on the US delegation to at least get out of the way, if they did not want to be party to the negotiation process. The Bush Administration was opposed to any globally binding climate change agreement.
The Bali Road Map set out the program of work which would have to be completed in order to deliver a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto Protocol at Copenhagen in 2009. The reason why a robust treaty is essential here at Copenhagen is that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
COP 14 took place at Poznan in Poland, in December 2008. I stayed at Capuchin monastery in the centre of the old city. On the first night one of the friars brought me for a tour and of the Christmas markets. I was particularly drawn to the ice sculptures, especially the intricacies of many of the designs.
The Friar explained that traditionally these sculptures were carved in December and usually lasted throughout the winter. In Poznan in December 2008, most of the sculptures had melted by the first Sunday of the Conference, a sure sign that climate change is already a reality.
One of the disappointments of the Poznan meeting was the fact that the European Union drew back from the commitments it had given at Bali, which was that rich countries, Annex 1 countries in the language of the COP, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 25–40 per cent by 2020. The row-back was as a result of pressure from the coal industry on the Polish government and the fact that Chancellor Angel Merkel of Germany was facing re-election in 2009. She did not want to alienate the car, steel and coal constituency.
It is estimated that there will be 15,000 people at the Copenhagen Conference, including 100 heads of state. The opening ceremony took place on 7 December. It was addressed by the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen. He said that COP 15 was taking place at a time of unprecedented political good will. He urged the parties to reach an ambitious agreement in order to deliver 'hope for a better future' for all.
He was followed by the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer. He hoped Copenhagen would result in an agreement on significant elements of the ongoing negotiations. These include mitigation, which means cutting carbon emissions drastically in rich countries, and adaptation, which involves making financial resources available to economically poor countries which are and/or will be badly effected by climate change.
Initiatives to protect forests as carbon sinks and to make clean, non-fossil fuel technologies available to countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America are also part of the negotiations. He emphasised that Copenhagen would be successful only if it delivered significant and immediate actions, beginning the day the conference ends.
Madame Ritt Bjerregard, the Mayor of Copenhagen highlighted the Copenhagen Climate Summit for Mayors which will take place from 14–17 December 2009. She said the city of Copenhagen aimed to be carbon neutral by 2025. She called on the negotiators to 'go very far and very fast' and turn Copenhagen into 'Hopenhagen'.
Sean McDonagh is a Columban missionary priest who is the author of several books. Originally from North Tipperary, he now resides at Dalgan Park, Navan, Co Meath in Ireland.