Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cop15 creates massive carbon footprint

By the end of the Copenhagen climate talks more carbon emissions will have been generated than in any previous climate conference, new figures released this week indicate. Despite efforts by the Danish government to reduce the conference's carbon footprint, around 5,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide will be created by the summit and a further 40,500 tonnes created by attendees' flights to Copenhagen. The staggering amounts are almost that of some small countries' carbon dioxide output in a whole year. 

Delegates, journalists, activists and observers from almost 200 countries have gathered at the summit and their travel and work will create 46,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide, most of it from their flights. This would fill nearly 10,000 Olympic swimming pools, and is the same amount produced each year by 2,300 Americans or 660,000 Ethiopians, based on U.S. government statistics about per person emissions in 2006.

The figure for the flights was calculated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, while the domestic carbon footprint from the summit was calculated by accountants Deloitte, Deloitte consultant Stine Balslev said. "This is much bigger than the last talks because there are many more people here," she said, adding that 18,000 people were expected to pass through the conference center every day. "These are preliminary figures but we expect that when we do the final calculations after the conference is over, the carbon footprint will be about the same," she said.

Deloitte included in their calculations emissions caused by accommodation, local transport, electricity and heating of the conference center, paper, security, transport of goods and services as well as energy used by computers, kitchens, photocopiers and printers inside the conference center. Accommodation accounted for 23 percent of the summit's greenhouse gas emissions, while transport created 7 percent. Seventy percent came from activities inside the conference center, she said.

"We have been forced to put up some temporary buildings in order to provide the delegation rooms because the number of participants is so much larger than expected," Balslev said. "For instance the US delegation has ordered an area that's five times as big as last year." The temporary buildings housing delegation offices are not well insulated and are warmed by oil heaters, so this area is the most wasteful, she said. 

The COP15 conference has attracted criticism for the size of its carbon footprint, with reports of hundreds of limousines being driven in from Sweden and Germany to meet the demand from embassies. So many private jets have arrived at Copenhagen that some have had to fly to other airports to park. One American pressure group has posted a video on YouTube of delegates arriving at the Bella Centre by chauffeur-driven car rather than taking the fast, clean Metro or the free shuttle bus from the city center. Some have been filmed exiting their cars just around the corner from the entrance, and one appears to be taking a bicycle off a bike rack only to ride the last few hundred metres.

There has also been raised voices over the refusing entry to thousands of delegates to the conference. Many people who caught flights to Copenhagen, and apparently fully cleared to attend the COP15 climate conference, have found themselves left out in the cold. On Monday, the United Nations announced that thousands of representatives of accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who had not yet been admitted to the conference would not be admitted for the rest of the week.

The stated reason was "security concerns" though for some it appeared to be a clear lack of planning. The UN has accredited 45,000 people for a building with a capacity of 15,000. NGOs applied months in advance for the credentials necessary to be admitted to the climate conference. "To give credentials to 45,000 people while choosing a building that holds 15,000 people is insane, although the United Nations, to be fair, has never been known for competence," Amy Ridenour, president of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research, said.

Ridenour also called it a "travesty" that the COP15 conference was supposedly about reducing the burning of fossil fuels and yet those who had come to attend weren't admitted to help solve the Earth's problems. "If 30,000 people fly to Copenhagen for no reason, doesn't that put unnecessary greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?" she asked.

Ridenour has formally asked the UN, which is allowing some NGOs to have multiple delegates inside while others are permitted none, to limit each NGO to one representative as long as space limitations remain a concern. "Some of these NGO delegations are from rich countries like our own, but for some NGOs, raising the funds to attend a conference in Copenhagen is a real financial hardship," Ridenour said, "The least the UN can do is let in at least one member of these delegations, so all of their money won't be wasted."

On Monday, the UN announced it would allow each accredited NGO to have four members attend the conference, and it said it would send an e-mail to each NGO with new credentials, but according to Ridenour, this had not happened. 

"We are an accredited NGO, and our delegation stood out in the cold for eight hours Monday, but we have received no e-mail from the United Nations containing the new credentials needed to get in on Tuesday. My inquiry to the United Nations has met with no reply, and the conference starts in less than an hour," she blogged on her group's Web site Tuesday morning.

By Wednesday there was still no sign as to whether any real agreement would be made in cutting carbon emissions. There has been a lot of debating, a few skirmishes between police and rioters, and a great deal of hot air vented by delegates. On Wednesday morning snow was beginning to settle as temperatures dropped to less than 2°C in Copenhagen. Whether this cools off the delegates sufficiently and motivates them in drawing up a working agreement can only be guessed at.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China with additional reporting from worldnewsreview at the Cop15 in Copenhagen, Denmark  

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