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Setting the context

After arriving at the Bella Centre's metro station, you walk down the stairs from the platform to ground level, where you are greeted by Greenpeace representatives handing out reports on the negotiations, climate change skeptics presenting the negotiations as a strategy for global domination and vegetarians with free books on the need to stop eating meat. A roped pathway guides you through several clusters of bright yellow clad police and into a massive security tent. It is a relatively quick pass through any of of some fifty security lines, like those in an airport, before you enter the tent for civil society with hundreds of booths from every manner of related NGO, a massive cloak check, meeting rooms and bicycles for rent. From here you pass mailboxes labeled with each country (so you can inform them of each event), a documentation centre that provides the day's agenda, teleconference centres, several cafeterias, and hundreds of tables around which are clustered every manner of group with laptops and literature piled high. Finally you enter the main conference centre, a vast hall with a glass ceiling. In the window you can catch a glimpse of the wind turbine which provides electricity for the conference centre. In the convention centre there are interactive booths such as Google, presentation stages, a massive computer centre, cafeterias, tables, country delegation offices, plenary presentations, in all populated by some 15,000 people (although registration is rumored to be 30,000). A cargo bicycle pedals by, offering organic apples for sale for 5 kroners (approximate $1US). The program of events is overwhelming, which in addition to the conference centre includes two major side conferences.

Turbulent times

COP 15 was suspended yesterday morning by the island state of Tuvalu after their proposal to discuss a legally binding post-Kyoto protocol was opposed by China, India, Venezuela and others. Tuvalu was supported by other islands states including Barbados and Marshall Islands. A boisterous protest by civil society in support of Tuvalu's position resulted in the plenary being closed to observer organisations yesterday afternoon.

This stalemate follows release of a leaked draft declaration yesterday prepared by the Prime Minister of Denmark in consultation with Australia and other developed countries. Southern countries, represented by the Group of 77 responded to the draft angrily which was considered weak and inadequate.

Kyoto or not?

The fracture within the Group of 77 countries over whether or not to support Tuvalu underlies a critical discussion around the Kyoto Protocol. The US, Canada and EU are proposing a new, post-Kyoto, legally-binding protocol under the UN Convention on Climate Change. This would facilitate the involvement of the US, which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol (the House rebelled against a commitment by the US President at the time, Bill Clinton, a precedent which Obama aims to avoid in these negotiations). Otherwise a separate arrangement would need to be developed specifically for the US. The Group of 77 is strongly pushing for the extension of the Kyoto Protocol arguing that if Kyoto is abandoned it will undermine the legitimacy of future legal agreements. For example, depending on how the emissions are measured, Canada is between 29% and 49% above its Kyoto target, and abandoning Kyoto sends a message to countries like Canada that there is no consequence for disregarding legal commitments.