The World is Watching

First published in Opinion The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by

For the two weeks I have spent part of each day at the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen. I wasn’t one of the 15 delegates from Cumbria, I didn’t get to go along and carry anyone’s bags and, sadly, nor was I invited to be the UN’s official cartoonist. It’s all been virtual, from my desk here in the Lake District.

It has been fascinating. The Conference organisers have Twittered and organised seven live web feeds, allowing anyone with broadband access to follow what is going on. In fact, as I type, a tiny Barrack Obahma, is in a corner my screen, urging delegates to come to an agreement. Oops, he’s just finished and now it’s Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili, President of Lesotho. Meanwhile, over on another web feed is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presumably highlighting Iran’s attempts to go green by investing vigorously in nuclear power.  It’s not as good as being there in person but does have the significant advantage of being able to scoff mince pies whilst witnessing global events unfold.

And removes some of the filters imposed by mainstream media.

A few days ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger was giving addressing the Conference. It was a good performance, as you might expect and stressed that whatever the outcome in negotiations, the UN Conference was already a success for getting the world’s attention on this important issue.  He also put forward a Big Idea, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Turning to BBC TV news that night, Arnie hardly received a mention. The 10 O’Clock News announced that The Terminator had arrived and … that was it. Hew Thingie immediately went on to concentrate on the  the imminent collapse of the talks.

The usual media focus on disaster, disagreements and deadlock.

Elsewhere, the Beeb has done better. The World Service provided excellent coverage with a wider perspective on the Conference from an additional seven countries around the globe. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Matt McGrath and the production team have covered smaller, more quirky items such as the proliferation of acronyms and the paucity of public toilets and even posted pics on Flikr. It helps make a world event engagingly human, taking the focus off the politicians for a brief period.

And that’s the point. Our political leaders need to realise that they’re not our leaders. They’re public servants (your regime may vary). As such, they’re answerable to the public and not in Denmark to parade in nice suits and grandstand for the voters back home.

The impetus for getting an agreement out of this conference comes from the NGOs and pressure groups camped outside the Bella Conference Centre in the freezing cold. Ironically, they were the ones being excluded by security as the politicians arrived to deliver their news bites.

Back to Arnie, who doesn’t need his profile raising and could therefore get on with talking some sense. He began by commenting that it was nice to be somewhere where his accent wasn’t out of place. He then listed what California was doing to push renewable energy and make the world’s 7th largest economy more green. And then came his Big Idea. Instead of a conference aimed at countries, prime ministers and presidents, how about the UN organising one for cities, states and smaller groups? The sort of organisations who are already making significant progress on the march to renewable energy and a more sustainable environment.  Of course, Arnie campaigned for it to be held in California, which won’t exactly harm his chances of re-election in 2010. But they’re greener of the rest of the US and it looks a nice place to visit. Give me five minutes and I’ll be packed.

The heavyweight politicians have turned up in force today and the mainstream media will concentrate on them. The real Conference work looks like it will continue all weekend so let’s hope World Service continues to cover it and that the web feeds remain. It might be worth popping in to see who is around.  Whatever the outcome, I’ve enjoyed my vicarious fortnight in Denmark. As Arnie said at the end of his Conference speech, I’ll be back.

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