Dispatches from the Copenhagen Climate Conference—A Bumpy Night

Update: The COP15 Web site is reporting around 10:30 p.m. that the U.S., China, India, and South Africa have reached a “meaningful agreement” on climate change—earlier than anticipated. A senior U.S. official who talked to the Associated Press said that the deal was not enough to slow warming, however.

Today the conference center was transformed into a U.N. Hollywood: Every few seconds a tight mass of people would go racing by with a famous politician at its core, TV journalists close at its heels.

President Obama spoke at the morning informal session, and I wormed my way into a jam-packed audience of people watching his speech from one of the televisions in the main hall.

He emphasized the time to talk is over—but, if anything, the intense discussions have just begun. The COP15 Web site is reporting that world leaders have been asked to stay overnight on Friday, as talks are expected to go into the weekend.

I also stopped by a press conference held by U.S. Congressional Republicans, most of whom said they hope there is no significant outcome of the Copenhagen conference. Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn told the briefing she’s all for clean air, water, and energy, but not for taxing U.S. citizens. Indeed, the Washington Post reported today that U.S. public support for funding climate change initiatives has crumbled.

Most of the science side events and press conferences were canceled today, but I did swing by one interesting talk on the Brazilian news organization Globo’s Amazônia project, which provides Internet users with an interactive map of Brazil deforestation and wildfire data. Satellites supply wildfire data six times a day, and deforestation data once a month.

A user can then virtually “protest” damage to the forests by clicking on an icon. In addition, if users have information about what they believe are illegal activities—99 percent of the deforestation in Brazil is illegal, according to speaker Eduardo Acquarone—they can send in photos, videos, or emails to alert authorities.

The project’s goal is that these volunteer monitors—now 550,000 strong—will motivate the government to investigate illegal activities, as well as achieve Brazil’s goal of reducing deforestation by 50 percent by 2020, Acquarone said.

The data has been available to the public for several years, but Acquarone told me that he wanted to make it more transparent—to get a “15-year-old that lives in Rio or Sao Paulo to try to understand why everyone talks about deforestation in the Amazon.”

With all the other COP15 events now over, one of the biggest gatherings in history is fully focused on hammering out a climate deal. With the conference center still buzzing at 8 p.m., it’s clear it’s going to be a long—and bumpy—night.

Christine Dell’Amore

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.