COP-17 Being Here
10 December 2011 --- We are all waiting for the resumption of the last session of the COP, time to be announced. Undoubtedly you will get many reports of the outcome here in Durban. I will add my version after the final is announced. But what I can provide at this point is a description of what it is like to be here.
I made a reservation quite early at Banana Backpackers, a hostel only one block away from the ICC, the venue for the COP-17. It is the second floor of a downtown building with an internal, concrete courtyard. There is space for about 150 people mostly in shared dorms, but there are also a few private rooms, one of which is mine. It is inexpensive, noisy, and crowded. They have a bar so a glass of wine or a beer is always waiting for me when I return each night. They also sell a simple breakfast and have a kitchen for all to use. The staff has been wonderful, meeting all of my needs with grace and warmth.
The ICC where the official conference is being held is totally barricaded with several streets closed. As one delegate put it, “they build a wall to shield us from the real world.” But within those walls there are excellent facilities to carry out the work of the COP. There are enough computers available for general use and free wifi through the facilities. Healthy food is available at several catering outlets within the ICC, even late at night. Several times I have left a meeting close to midnight having forgotten to eat for awhile and found a roasted vegetable sandwich available.
But the best parts are the sights and sounds of people from all the countries of the world with all varieties of national dress and languages. For my part, although I am officially representing Quaker Earthcare Witness, I unofficially represent Belize, too. I have worn my gold Mayan earrings and Meso-American embroidered blouses with long skirts every day.
The meeting rooms have space for all 193 countries and Palestine in alphabetical order at tables with microphones. Each microphone has a button to request the floor and the Chair takes the requests in order. When the floor is granted, that microphone is turned on. In the session last night after Qatar issued their invitation to the next COP-18, the Chair noted that Belize had asked for the floor. I wondered, “is Belize inviting COP-19?” But soon the Chair said it was a mistake. Still it was nice to hear Belize mentioned.
The delegates from intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are relegated to the back of the room. To have more involvement of Civil Society in these deliberations there were opportunities for “interventions” at some of the general sessions. These usually happened at the very end of a session when most of the delegates had left the room and were often deleted from the agenda due to lack of time. The most powerful of these always came from the youth. After the country reports were completed, statements were received from intergovernmental organizations, including Dr. Kenrick Leslie from the Caribbean Community Centre for Climate Change located in Belize, and from non-governmental organizations.