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Friday, 02 December 2011 10:58

COP Negotiations: Information Overload

Written by  John Howard
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One half of the boards with side events, and that is only the listings for the next few days!
One half of the boards with side events, and that is only the listings for the next few days!

View down one of the many rows of booths.
View down one of the many rows of booths.

My view from the back of the main plenary session.
My view from the back of the main plenary session.
The COP negotiations are not quite as I expected. I guess I envisioned a group of like 20 people talking back and forth, kind of like a Presidential debate, but with more people and a narrower scope. What I’ve found is that a “President,” who is a UNFCCC official or South Africa “recognizing” a delegate, typically an “honorable” one, so that they can take the “floor.” They don’t actually get up and take the stage or floor, but speak from their seat, which is alphabetized by country. This whole set up is less dramatic than a debate, and you need to look at one of the many screens to see who actually is talking. I’ve tried many times to see who is talking from my seat in the back, and usually can’t find them by the time they are done speaking. In this way, those of you back home can get most of what I experience (without the 90 F with 90% humidity) via the miracle of the internet. The one type of thing you can’t experience is the smaller discussions of workgroups and committees that occur throughout the day and are not recorded or televised.

The main benefit of actually being here, thus far, is catching the many side conversations and the so-called side events. Hundreds of official side events will take place over the two weeks of the conference, by hundreds of different NGO organizations. There are so many that it is very hard to keep track of when and where they’ll be happening! The side events happen in a big building next door to the main meeting area in some 10 or so large rooms. If I’m lucky, the room will have a sign next to it saying what it will be, otherwise I end up wandering around. Additionally, some organizations such as the International Energy Agency have full day mini-conferences.

A third option of information diffusion is to visit the 200 or so booths hosted by NGOs and trade groups. Most have brochures or other informational pamphlets, and some even give out books and CD/DVDs. I’ve built a solid collection that has almost burst my back-pack. I could probably spend the next 6 months doing nothing else but reading the giveaway stuff from COP17! There are also daily periodicals put out by at least 5 different groups, including a magazine called Outreach that published articles by Paul and myself.

Maybe you’ve gotten the impression that there is an overwhelming amount of information, at least that is how I feel. I haven’t even described the four football field sized tents out by registration, which is a hodgepodge of booths promoting services offered by businesses and other South African groups.

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 December 2011 14:55