The many sides of COP15 (by Frank)

The Tuck delegation meets with IPCC chairman Dr. R.K. Pachauri

If the history of warfare has taught us to never fight a land war in Asia, then you might say that COP15 has taught us to never hold a December conference in Scandinavia.  Snow, freezing temperatures, and bitterly cold winds made Copenhagen a less than desirable destination on Thursday, providing a bit of a reminder of the Hanover winter we had just left behind.  However, with heads of state descending on Copenhagen over the next two days, the UN had announced it would further cut NGO access to the Bella Center today and Friday, meaning we again focused our efforts on outside events (no waiting in line!) rather than once again braving in the cold for hours on end to get into the conference.  Given the weather today, the 12 hours I spent waiting in line on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday didn’t seem so bad.

A day after attending a series of panels organized by the International Emission Trading Association (IETA) at the Crowne Plaza, I started Thursday with a trip to the Klima Forum at DGI-byen.  The two hotel conferences were near perfect foils, representing the stunning diversity of NGOs trying to leave their mark on the climate change debate.  At the modern, swanky Crowne Plaza you can get your fill of star-gazing: Thomas Friedman ate brunch across the way from us, while Al Gore made an appearance later in the afternoon on the way to a VIP event being held there.

At the DGI-byen?   Not so much.  The conference center is home to hundreds of mostly environmentalist exhibitors set up in crude cubicles–think junior high science fair, complete with raised basketball hoops overlooking the ramshackle affair.  Meanwhile, the hallways are crammed with mostly young people huddled over their laptops to use the free wifi.  Groups are there from around the world, campaigning against everything from nuclear power to carbon offsets to multinationals’ role in Argentine crop experimentation.  For an MBA student, the DGI-byen obviously offered little of the business focus we came to learn more about, but it’s still an interesting counterpoint to the more practical, big picture view offered at events such as IETA.  Everywhere you find people looking to make connections, make their points, and get a better feel for the complex problems ahead of us.

But perhaps the highlight of the conference thus far came Thursday evening, when the ten of us from Tuck had the opportunity to speak with IPCC Chairman and Nobel Laureate Dr. Rajendra Pachauri.  Despite his whirlwind schedule, he generously sat down with us for nearly an hour, answering questions on a broad range of topics: the importance of 350 vs. 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the ethics of mitigating vs. adapting to climate change, and the communication challenges of the recent “Climategate” scandal to name a few.    Listening to Dr. Pachauri recall stories about everything from the rigorous IPCC peer review sessions to his meetings with Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, it’s easy to see not only how challenging his role as IPCC chair has been, but also how he’s managed to pull it off: with a disarming mixture of humility, compassion, realism, and respect for others.

As for Climategate, it was clear that Dr. Pachauri had been frustrated by both the foolishness of some of the emails as well as the resulting relentless drone of media conspiracy theorists.  But he’s also a realist.  While the IPCC has already addressed and refuted the specific concerns about the emails, he acknowledged that it was difficult to do much beyond investigate the issue and reaffirm the IPCC’s findings.  While many on the other side had strong financial incentives to push the issue into the forefront, the UN itself had neither the funding nor the mandate to fight a PR battle.  That could prove a problem going forward in the U.S., but it’s clear from the past two weeks of COP15 that national delegations themselves remain focused on the bigger issue of mitigating climate change.


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