Instances of Non-Participation, Thursday 17th December 2009

COP 15 Remote Participation at the Forum Centre in Copenhagen. Photo by: Alex Eisenberg

COP 15 Remote Participation at the Forum Centre in Copenhagen. Photo: Alex Eisenberg


‘Crisis in Copenhagen – the pressure is building’ says an email in my inbox, from Avaaz, the international activists’ organization.  They want me to sign a petition to encourage the delegates at COP15 to secure a 2 C deal.  A 2 C deal is one that makes the whole world work together to stop the Earth’s temperature rising a further two degrees.  On Wednesday I heard someone say that people at the Bella Centre, where the COP15 talks are taking place, were resigned to a 4 C deal as the best they could hope for.  I overheard this comment at Klima Forum, the ‘people’s’ climate conference, organized by the Danish Government in a leisure complex in the centre of town.  Klima Forum is the place where everyone who has not been accredited for access to the Bella Centre comes to meet.  There are talks and discussions taking place here every day, an art exhibition, some relatively cheap food.  Sometimes I wonder if Klima Forum is just the Danish Government’s way of keeping all the NGOs and the activists busy, so they don’t make trouble.  Today it is too cold to make trouble anyway – the snowstorm last night has laid a thick white blanket over the city, and left a biting chill in the air – but yesterday, at 8am at Taarnby train station, a few hundred activists were looking for trouble.  They were gathered for the legal march to the Bella Centre, to protest against the ticketing system that has denied access to 15,000 accredited delegates.  The previous day, the American activist Naomi Klein stood up in the main hall at Klima Forum and urged everyone to join the march.  The 15,000 excluded delegates, she said, included representatives from NGOs from developing countries, some of whom had only flown out for the second week of talks, in order to save money.  They have flown out, she said, only to find that they cannot take part.

I had already picked up a leaflet about the protest, and hearing Naomi Klein talk made me determined that it participation was the right thing to do.  But when I arrived at Taarnby station the following morning, wearing an extra pair of socks and two pairs of gloves to guard against the cold, I felt out of place.  Other people were holding banners about Tar Sands in Canada and about relocalizing food production.  I trusted the banners, but I wasn’t informed enough to march in their name.  I felt like I had done earlier in the week, when a woman from Greenpeace asked me to vote in the Angry Mermaid Awards, a satirical prize for the least helpful lobbyist at COP15.  The woman handed me a list of international corporations that lobby governments to act in ways that exacerbate climate problems.  I said I would do some research before I cast my vote.  The representative from Greenpeace looked concerned, and said I must vote now, because the polls were about to close.  So I apologised, and she looked disappointed, and then she left.

At the protest, I stood around for a while in silence.  I didn’t join in when someone started a chant: What do we want?  Climate Action! When do we want it?  Now! I wanted to march with the 15,000 excluded delegates, but this group of young people seemed to be social protestors, willing to march anywhere, for anything.  The demonstration was planned to culminate in a ‘popular assembly’, a real and symbolic act to reverse the hierarchy of political power.  The marchers from outside the Bella Centre would be met by supportive delegates from inside, and together the two groups would overthrow conference security, disrupt the politics of exclusion and impose a true mandate for discussion.  At Taarnby, a string of four of five policemen moved silently past, and the crowd roared in protest.  I didn’t recognise myself in the emotions of any of the activists and wondered what kind of mandate this would be.  It reminded me of watching an England football match in a pub.  I got embarrassed when England scored a goal because I didn’t know how to join in with the shrieks and whoops of spontaneous sociability.

Photo: Alex Eisenberg

Photo: Alex Eisenberg

Leaving Taarnby, I sat on a quiet commuter train and glided back into the city.  This time, the train route did not take us past the Bella Centre, like it had on the way there.  Earlier, I had passed the site of the official talks while the sun was still rising in the grey blue sky.  It is a faceless place, like an aircraft hanger or a football stadium – a structure with no windows, and a lot of security.  Out the back, there is a model of the globe.  It was being watched by two officials in high visibility vests, who were not quite as tall as the globe itself.  The globe was lit up, its seas glowing blue and its land glowing green.  The metro train seemed to slow down as we went past, but there was nothing much to see.  A queue of people.  A building without any windows.  An industrial space, sightless and slippery, outside which the rest of the world slides by.

Instances of non-participation, December 2009

  1. Taarnby Train Station, 8.30am, Wednesday 16th December [not taking part in the protest for the popular assembly at COP15]
  2. Klima Forum, 4.45pm, Monday 13th December [not voting in the Angry Mermaid awards]
  3. Metro train near the Bella Centre, 8.15am, Wednesday 16th December [not entering the Bella Centre]
  4. Forchsammer Vej 11, 3.00pm – 6.00pm, Thursday 17th December [not going to a talk at Klima Forum in which world leaders were invited to answer the question, ‘Did we get the deal we came for?’]
  5. London (various), Sunday 6th December – Friday 11th December, inclusive [not travelling to Copenhagen for the start of COP15, New Life Copenhagen, and Question Time]
  6. Gmail inbox, daily [not signing petitions sent to me by Ricken Patel at

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Posted: December 19th, 2009 | Author: Mary Paterson | Filed under: Text | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »