It’s officially week two of the climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa. Yesterday was also my first day as an official delegate, and as I joined the throngs of people heading through security I felt a tangible excitement (or nervous energy perhaps?) at the prospect of the week.
Having spent the previous week at Howard college in the Civil society space, which was particularly disorganised, the chaotic atmosphere seemed similar in COP – amongst the masses of people, sessions, side events, negotiations, the atmosphere was overwhelming.
However, unlike Civil society, COP has an aura of being “the real deal”. The ritual around attending COP gives its delegates legitimacy, a kind of importance and agenda which makes it differ from the happenings at Howard College; the delegates differentiate themselves from the public, both physically and symbolically. To enter the conference, delegates get on a conference shuttle, walk through the CCR into a restricted area, go through security and into sectioned and partitioned hallways; they all wear the UNFCCC lanyards. Joining business men in suits, African women in traditional dress, press wielding cameras in their morning ritual gave me a sense of importance and excitement; I too was entering the world of the “official”.
How scary it is that, despite being as chaotic in nature as the civil society events, COP itself has real legitimacy and power. Is the power arbitrary? Is it simply created by an unequal amount of political and economic agency?
It certainly appears so. Despite wearing the right uniform and legitimising lanyard, I was restricted from attending the high level negotiations of the Parties, who differentiated themselves even from the other delegates. Despite being in the conference, we were restricted by layers of exclusivity; hierarchy.
But over the course of the day, unlike our experience in Civil society, we did come to find some general awareness about what was happening in the negotiations. There were whispers of the Green Climate Fund’s controversial move from the COP proceedings into the G20; the EU’s alternative proposal to Kyoto and surrounding support or decline; the ALBA countries’ and youth support of a Kyoto second term. Nothing was very clear, but there were general feelings, issues which were tangible in the general “delegate psyche”. More then that, however, was difficult to grasp amongst the complexity and sheer amount of events happening throughout the day.
Overall, from speaking to people who have been to many other COP’s, it is clear that everyone finds the first COP experience rather overwhelming and chaotic, which is encouraging. However, what is rather underwhelming is the fact that the chaos is something which is legitimising or enabling high-level decisions about the future of the world to be made in an environment of unequally-shared power. It is our job to remain aware of this - and in turn hold leaders to account on their amount of power.