The eagerly anticipated arrival of President Obama and over one hundred other heads of state in Copenhagen for a photo op at the U.N. climate change aka global warming conference has buried the really big story here. No, it's not the fact that no agreement will be reached on a new international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. -- That outcome was foreseen months ago.
The big news is that the grand alliance pushing global warming alarmism and energy-rationing policies has started to break apart here in a spectacular way. The official United Nations global warming bureaucracy has thrown out the twenty to thirty thousand environmentalists who traveled to Copenhagen to attend the meeting as officially-accredited delegates of non-governmental organizations (or NGOs). The environmentalists are extremely angry and have every justification for being angry.
This is potentially momentous because the two wings of alarmism are totally dependent on one another. The UN's Kyoto bandwagon has been pushed along by the environmental movement and no new treaty to follow the Kyoto Protocol, when it expires at the end of 2012, will have a chance of being adopted without the continuing and unremitting backing of the environmentalists whom the U.N. has unceremoniously booted out this week. For the environmental groups, Kyoto and its successor treaty are the only viable vehicles for achieving their goals of reducing emissions and putting the world on an energy starvation diet.
What has happened this week in Copenhagen is not based on any ideological disagreements. It's the result of four things: the size of the room, the number of attendees, total incompetence, and poor manners. The U.N. chose to hold what was billed as "the most important meeting in the history of the world" in a conference center that only holds fifteen thousand people. The environmental NGOs sent lists of delegates that added up to over thirty thousand. The U.N. looked at these two numbers and decided everything would work out fine.
Everything hummed along fine last week because it was the first week of the conference, which was devoted to technical meetings. The majority always come for only the second week because that's the glamorous part. The second week is when the heads of delegations arrive to begin high-level negotiations and when the media arrive in huge numbers to cover them.
Over the weekend the United Nations organizers of the meeting realized they had a big problem. They announced that each NGO was going to be limited in the number of its delegates that would be allowed into the conference center beginning Tuesday. A total of seven thousand passes were to be handed out. What did this mean for the NGOs? Well, take, for example, the dilemma faced by the World Wildlife Fund, which sent approximately 120 delegates to Copenhagen and now was only going to be given 23 passes.
Then on Monday, thousands of people waited for up to nine hours outside in the cold to get into the building. They were trying to register and get their ID badges. In the huge crowd were the heads of a couple major environmental organizations. At the end of the day, the U.N. let in a few to register and told the rest to go home.
Luckily, I didn't arrive until Tuesday and it took only ninety minutes standing in the cold and another ninety inside to get registered. That's only partly because the U.N. started processing people much more quickly. It's also because a lot of people gave up--and are probably still just trying to get warm.
The reason given by the U.N. for restricting the NGOs to just seven thousand attending at any one time, was that it was necessary to keep the total below the conference center's capacity of 15,000. It's baffling that the U.N.'s global warming secretariat didn't think of this weeks ago and send e-mails to the NGOs telling them that they couldn't send so many people to "the most important meeting in the history of the world" (which it might honestly in the eyes of the environmental NGOs).
That was only the beginning, however. On Tuesday, it was announced that only 1,000 NGO delegates would be allowed to attend the conference on Thursday and Friday and that the method for choosing the lucky few would be announced later in the day. A notice was posted that said the decision would be made by 6 PM. At 6, another notice said come back at seven. At 7, we were told that NGO representatives would meet with Yvo De Boer, the head of the Secretariat, at 7:30 and to watch our e-mails for an announcement of when we would meet. At 7:45, we were told to assemble at 8 to find out which lucky thousand would be allowed to attend the last two days of the conference. At 8, the meeting with Mr. de Boer was still going on. So we sat and waited. Ditto 8:30. Ditto 9. At 9:35, our NGO representatives appeared.
By this time, enough people had given up that I thought I had a good chance of getting a pass (and I should explain that CEI for whom I work is one of the few accredited NGOs not on the global warming bandwagon). Then the NGO representative told us that U.N. security had advised Mr. de Boer that no NGO delegates should be allowed to attend the conference during the last two days, when over one hundred prime ministers and presidents, including Mr. Obama, would be in the building. But de Boer had insisted on the rights of "civil society" to be represented and had secured a compromise. Instead of a thousand passes for NGOs, there would be three hundred.
Thus the approximately 30,000 NGO delegates who traveled from around the world to Copenhagen to attend COP-15 were limited to seven thousand on Tuesday and Wednesday and to 300 for the last two days.
The reason that U.N. security advised banning the NGOs altogether is that some of the environmentalists had been behaving badly. On Monday, there had been a small demonstration inside the conference center. I wasn't there, but from television coverage it looked like the demonstrators were shouting at official government negotiators walking down the hall past them and that the demo was close to turning into a small riot.
Now, world leaders don't like demos or riots taking place anywhere close to them. Instead of glowing news reports all about them meeting with their fellow important world leaders, the stories from COP-15 would be about the protesters who are angry at them. One thousand NGO delegates in the building might include just enough malcontents to cause an ugly -- and highly televisable -- ruckus.
Consequently, there are many thousands of environmental activists in Copenhagen without a lot to do. Many of them are extremely angry. It snowed Wednesday night and gusting winds have made Thursday bitterly cold. The news reports say that four thousand protesters tried to push their way past police barricades and into the conference center. Two hundred sixty of them were arrested. I don't know what might happen outside the conference on Friday.
Inside everything will no doubt run smoothly where the heads of state are having their photos taken and making their speeches about how important it is to save the world from the ravages of global warming by agreeing to a new treaty. We will be expected to overlook the fact that after two years of negotiations begun at COP-13 in Bali, the major nations are further apart than they were then. The news from the conference center will be that these 100+ heads of state have pulled the world back from the brink of failure and a new treaty is now within sight. Sure.
The real news is that there is now a tremendous amount of animosity and distrust between the U.N. establishment and the environmental establishment. They know that they need each other, which is why the mainstream environmental NGOs have not made a stink and why the establishment press hasn't made it a front page story. But the fissure arising out of the U.N.'s incompetence is going to take a long time to heal and could easily grow much wider.
That is the very good news coming out of Hopenchangen.
Myron Ebell is the director of Energy & Global Warming Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute