This is the face of civil society on the final day of COP19

UNFCCC logoA fundamental part of UNFCCC law making is inviting civil society to observe it.  In this way, negotiators may keep their constituencies in mind when locked in tense debates in far away countries, and “we the people” may keep an eye on our delegation’s representation of us.  Article 6 of the Convention encourages parties to promote educational exchange and public awareness about climate change and the UNFCCC’s processes for combatting it.  As a member of a law school observer delegation and a professor of international environmental law, I’m here in Warsaw poised to fulfill this mandate.

Today, the media talk outside the National Stadium is about NGOs walking out en masse yesterday, ADP lineexpressing with their feet frustration over the slow progress to date.  (Note:  Alisha broke the story here.) Last week there were reports of three youth NGO members losing their credentials due to unpermitted protests.  One of the memes running around the internet (and delegates’ computer screens – you can tell by the sudden bursts of sardonic laughter in the meeting rooms) parodies this COP’s parameters of “free speech” via the banner ban. Honestly, I took these measures as reasonable bureaucratic responses to COP15‘s uber civil society participation in Copenhagen, where it looked like the UN meeting organizers did not consult our Danish host’s occupancy and fire code regulations.

IMG_4335But this week — as a devotee of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP), having watched it work each day to negotiate and draft the building blocks of the new climate change text that will take the Kyoto Protocol’s place — I’m beginning to feel a bit uncivil.  At first, I lauded the co-chairs’ thoughtful approach to these difficult, multilateral negotiations:  they put the walk in their talk of parties negotiating with each other and not them by trapping them in a smaller room, around a rectangular table, so that they could give and take face to face.  The downside of this arrangement has been less room for us observers.

Professor T. Bach charging her and her computer's battery during the 4th hours of waiting on the ADP line.

Professor T. Bach charging her and her computer’s battery during the 4th hour on the ADP line.

When this room change started on Tuesday, we all entered, yellow and pink badges equally.  But the COP19 urban legend has it that parties later complained about insufficient seats for their members.  In response, starting Wednesday, those of us wearing yellow NGO badges were kept from entering with the pink-badged state parties, forced to stand in line for at last a half hour post-start to gain access to the negotiations — to play the very role that the treaty designed for us.This delay has intensified as the APD negotiations have.  Today, I’ve been in line for more than four hours.  I can report some progress on this front; we’re now allowed to sit down on the hallway floor while waiting to play our role in “civilizing” international climate change law making.

N.B. 7pm, just admitted to the meeting room, after 5 hours on line.  Surreal experience, for (presumably) youth NGOers have staged a demonstration, infiltrating the stadium seating above the temporary meeting rooms where we’re located (on the pitch below) and chanting loudly.  Thus dull roar provides a backdrop to some parties terse words.