Equipped with our yellow NGO observer badges, our VLS delegation ventured out two hours before the opening COP plenary, ready for long security waits. Instead, we sailed through the well-managed lines
and began exploring the stadium venue. Some of us attended several early briefing sessions with partner NGOs, then attended the COP welcome ceremony and opening plenary. The COP18 president, His Excellency Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, gave a farewell speech in Arabic, passed the gavel to incoming COP19 president, Marcin Korolec, and Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary UNFCCC) and Rajendra Pachauri (IPCC Chair) summarized the work at hand. Figueres had us take a deep breath, then reminded us that in it was 400ppm of CO2. She believes that the “collective climate friendly capacity” has increased, and reminded the delegates that “what happens in this stadium is not a game.” Pachauri began by quoting Einstein: “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” He then went on to recap Working Group I’s 5th assessment so that we couldn’t rest on old knowledge. Pachauri finished his short presentation with a challenge to the group: Given that the international scientific community now has “high confidence” in its findings on how human activity is causing global warming, and that this means a 95% or more likelihood level, why would we want to jeopardize the future of living species on this planet for a 5% chance that they are wrong?
COP President Korolec emphasized time management from the outset, stating that he cannot — will not — extend the UNFCCC subbodies’ work (SBI and SBSTA) past this Saturday, November 16. He stressed the need to show productivity and flexibility, and urged delegates to make every effort to maximize meeting time.
But despite these best intentions, a meeting that was due to be combined with the CMP (for Kyoto Protocol state parties) opening plenary and completed by 1pm was still going strong at 2:30pm – without even opening the CMP! Negotiating bloc statements took up the bulk of this time, staking out ground for the negotiating sessions to come. The Philippines’ delegation announced that it had the “honor to speak on behalf of the resilient people of Philippines.” (Today’s NYT estimates that at least 10,000 people have died in Tacloban alone and that Typhoon Haiyan produced winds of up to 190 mph.)
Only a short time was reserved for civil society statements, but it nonetheless had an impact. A leader of a business coalition spoke first, followed by Elirozz Labaria, a youth NGO representative (YNGO) from the Philippines, who poignantly told a hushed crowd that “countries like mine bear the burden, even though we didn’t cause the problem.” She reminded negotiators that COP18 in Doha began with a similar disaster and scolded them for “discounting our future for far too long,” negotiating international climate change law not just during young people’s entire lives, but for some negotiators’ entire lives!
After a short break, we reconvened around 3pm to open the CMP, then proceed directly to the SBSTA meeting. The latter was still going strong when our observer delegation left around 7pm. (More on SBSTA and its full agenda later.) A very full first day, as others in the delegation have chronicled today. We’ve also captured it in pictures in the gallery to the left.