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Dispatch from the Copenhagen Climate Talks: A Pink Plastic Elephant?


What have the negotiations been like for Yvo de Boer, the United Nations climate chief who is in charge of the talks? “I never had the opportunity to spend a whole week in Disneyland before—and now it looks like it will be two weeks,” he said wryly at a Dec. 13 reception at a post downtown hotel: “I’m not sure if I’m on a roller coaster ride or in the House of Horrors in a plastic pink elephant.”

Certainly, no previous negotiations have been like this one. It seemed like the crowds at the last big talks—in Bali in 2007—were huge. But there were only about 10,000 people there. More than 42,000 people have registered to attend the Copenhagen talks—so many that badges will be rationed by Tuesday this week, leaving many unable to actually enter the Bella conference center where the negotiations are taking place. And never before have so many leaders of the world’s nations planned to attend—120 are expected to be in Copenhagen by the last days of the Dec. 7-18 meeting. “That’s putting enormous pressure on the negotiators to wrap up before the heads of state get here,” says Elliot Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

De Boer feels that pressure. “It’s easy to be awed by the number of world leaders,” he said. “But I argue we should not be distracted by the lights.” The meeting needs to bring more than a political commitment to tackling climate change, he added. It most also develop an architecture for moving forward with a legally binding treaty. “It is really important that this conference delivers,” de Boer said.

Will it happen? Wished good luck as he left the reception, de Boer said: “Thanks, I’ll need it.”


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