After 2.5 COP’s (the 0.5 comprising of hours and days of queuing to get into COP 15 in Copenhagen but alas not getting in) I am by no means a COP-veteran. Hats off to those that are now seasoned COP-pers. It is easy to identify those that have been at it for years – mainly as they have a photo on their UNFCCC ID badge which is definetly more than 10 years old…
However as a 2.5-seasoned Observer at this COP 16 in Cancun, there are certain observations and experiences that can be shared. For those that aren’t aware being an ‘Observer’ is very different from being a ‘Party’ member. Where Party members spend most of their days in the burrows of negotiating rooms, Observers have more flexibility to attend side events, media briefings, fossil of the day awards or if they so wish chain themselves to the fence outside the venue and protest (presumably Party members could also chain themselves to fences if they so wish…).
These COP’s are a mecca of people coming from a plethora of interest groups. There are nearly 200 stands with representatives ranging from refrigeration companies and the aviation industry through to bird watchers, nuclear supporters and indigenous farmers. It is fascinating to see how cross-cutting the climate change issue really is, and very important to be aware of so as not to get caught up in the bubble that is the academic world of energy research. One must also be wary not to pick up a brochure from each stand as you will end up carrying back a tree’s worth of paper in your luggage ( and of course it’s not great for the planet either).
Side events can vary from discussing the technicalities of the financing mechanism under the negotiations to the impacts of climate change to a specific crop variety in a rural village in Ghana to discussions on ‘blue carbon’ (carbon sequestration in oceans). These side events are also a great opportunity to network – even if you are too shy to ask a question in front of everyone, take note of those asking similar questions and make yourself known. Today in a side event about the public good of renewables, a councillor from Kimberly South Africa asked a question along the lines of ‘ if there is so much knowledge on the benefits of renewable energy at an international level, how come we don’t know about it on the ground in South Africa, particularly at a community level?’. I promptly introduced myself and told her about the ERC – EPD I will be sending her your way!
Last but not least, be prepared to rarely see daylight or breathe ‘real’ air. The days are long and consist of sitting on busses between venues, sitting in meetings, listening, eating, sitting on busses, reading documents, listening, networking and so on. Everyone seems to be running on the adrenalin of aiming for the same goal (well not quite, but you know what I mean).
On that note, time to get on a bus, and go sit in a chair and aim for that goal.