It is still like a pleasant and vivid dream. My two-day trip to Copenhagen was fleeting. Yet, I still have a lucid recollection of my visit to the capital of Denmark, which I might as well say, the capital of the world, at least until Friday. If I were to have it my way, I would have wanted to be there right from the start until the end. I am registered as a delegate under the organisation where I am now doing my internship. My official task was to bring campaign materials for a side event and networking activities of our group. With that, my task ended as soon as I arrived and delivered the about 30-kilogram communication paraphernalia consisting of books, brochures, and a roll-up to the hotel and the Bella Center.
A queue was starting to form as I arrived outside the Bella Center. To while away the time and forget about the freezing weather, I started talking to other people falling in line. I met a guy who works for Friends of the Earth in Sweden, a lady working for a Danish NGO dealing with dealing with development aid, and an Indonesian scientist from CIFOR. After two hours of waiting in line to get accredited, I almost failed to get a badge. The guy behind the counter who attended to me said my name was not in his system. He asked me to jot down my name in a ripped piece of paper, and he disappeared for five minutes to sort out the problem. He came back with the name of my superior written on the same piece of paper. I told him it won’t be of much help to run to him, as I was the one who personally collated the names of our delegation. He asked for the date when we sent our letter of nomination. He disappeared again and went back with a smile on his face. He told me he has found my name at the bottom of the list, which turned out to be inconspicuous because there was no space between my name and the preceding one. To be honest, I saw this nick after we sent our letter of nomination by email, yet I judged it to be a minor mistake which should not be a trouble. Apparently, it was. He was apologetic and helpful in the end. For my part, I should have brought a copy of the list of delegates that we sent to the UNFCCC Secretariat.
After having my photo taken, I wore my badge, had it scanned by security personnel that became my pass to what has been probably the most important building for the past ten days. I walked into the inner halls of Bella Center. My first stop was the IFOAM booth where I dropped off the materials I brought from Hamburg. I skimmed through the other booths, spotting and stopping at my favorite organisations scattered all over the massive hall. From the outside, the Bella Center looks like any other pavillion or multi-purpose hall. This changed once I started looking for the office of the Philippine delegation, which I either failed to find, or there isn’t any to begin with. Following the signs leading to the delegation offices, one has to go through a labyrinth of hallways. From the booths of different organisations, I made my way through the press center. The next hall seems to be the main hall where people hang out and buzz about. It houses the globe and a colorful mosaic and that has made it to the front page of newspapers all over the world. The homebase of the delegation of the different groups and countries are found in the adjacent hall. The EU has a ‘chill’ and ‘loungey’ spot with chairs and tables occupying a wide area. To the right from the entrance and across the EU lounge is the closed cloister of the US. Farther into the bowels of the Bella Center are the delegation and organisation offices.
Once I got tired of exploring, getting lost, and finding my way in the Bella Center, I sat down on one of the boxy benches to pause and take in the atmosphere of the place. A ‘circus’ is how my supervisor described these international conferences while he gave a briefing to our group back in Hamburg. I was still in a state of disbelief and wonder. Here I am, an ex-graduate student and now an intern who has a vague idea of the next steps to take, and now an audience in this international show. Who would have known that I will be in the same place where issues of global importance are being discussed and decided upon. Is it fate, and a sign of things to come?
While I have attended one other UN Conference, the UN Convention on Biodiversity COP 9, the on-going COP15 beats it in terms of scope of international politics and its participants. The breadth of topics climate change covers subsumes biodiversity, insurance, and migration, to name some. Heads of state congregate as I type this, delivering their respective country statement. It is diplomacy par excellence.
The exhilarating atmosphere is not confined within the halls of power in the Bella Center. The whole city itself is the epicenter of environmental activism. I heard from my colleagues that they would join a big demonstration at the city center. I was supposed to have joined them, and the rest of the 100,000 strong crowd. I decided against it, not much because of the danger, but to make the most of my day in the Bella Center to meet people. In hindsight, I was better off staying behind (or ahead, as I read the march would head there). A few who were rounded-up in the commotion were deported. Had I, a non-EU citizen, been arrested, worse things could have happened. I wasn’t able to join them, yet I am one with their cause.
Later that afternoon, I tagged along a colleague to attend a briefing by the World Bank Group, which I learned they traditionally and informally hold during COP meetings. Here I met a couple of fellow Filipinos, one working for a feminist group based in Manila, and another in a bank watchdog in Washington D.C.
I did another round of booth-hopping, picked up some materials that piqued my interest and decided it was time to go when weariness from the long trip, waiting out in the cold, and hunger sinked in. It was about 7 p.m. The two metros traveling from the Bella Center were packed. It was easy to spot participants of the conference. Most were still wearing their badges hanging around their neck. It serves as the ticket to get around the city via public transportation.
After dropping off my bag in the hotel, I slipped out into the cold night to hunt down my dinner. It is always a difficult decision to make. A nice treat in a restaurant would have been nice, but I had a better yet cheaper idea. I spotted a public photo exhibit called 100 Places to Remember earlier that morning, and decided to check it out. If Germany had wurst, I assumed there must be a Danish counterpart given their geographic proximity and historical trade relations. I passed by a sausage stand, and bought a Pølser, which is basically a sausage “wrap.” While munching on my dinner, I hopped from one stunning poster-sized photo to another. In the end, I managed two Pølsers. Despite the freezing weather, I covered all the 100 photos, and afterwhich I decided to call it a night. Looking through the windows while walking past the restaurants, I might have missed a proper meal but there are no regrets. The two hours I spent looking at the photos was a trip around the world. How fitting for it to see photos of different places, whose leaders are now in the very same city where the exhibit is.
My second and last day was less hectic. It was a Sunday, and there are no conference sessions. My colleagues and I met over breakfast, as they have done so in the previous days. After (over-) staying around the breakfast table, I only had two more hours before I catch my bus back to Hamburg. But before leaving I had one more to-do to accomplish, that is to visit the a famous Copenhagen landmark. If Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York the Statue of Liberty and Berlin the Brandenburg gate, Copenhagen has The Little Mermaid. I was lucky to have stayed in a hotel near her. The 15-minute walk along the coast, however cold, was a pleasant one. The coast was awash in gold as the sun shone above the horizon. Soon I saw the crowd gathering by the fence; I knew I’ve found the sculpture of Ariel. She is nestled on a rock, staring blankly on the shore. In the 20 minutes I stayed there, I must have photographed the sculpture in every possible angle without me getting wet. I needed to rush back to the hotel, packed my stuff, and bade Copenhagen goodbye.
As a European city, Copenhagen was busy for a Sunday. The conference delegates must have been up and about that day, seizing the opportunity to see the city and to break from the confines of the conference halls. The same is true with the train station where I was supposed to catch my bus. After walking countless rounds in the station and despite arrivign early, I deemed it was a futile effort to find my co-passengers. The 1 p.m. waiting time was over and I knew I missed the bus and needed to travel back to Hamburg. I could have stayed a day or two longer, as I learned that morning that another colleague was sick and won’t make it to Copenhagen. Taking the train is an expensive option, that would have set me back at least a hundred Euros. And so I logged on to mitfahrgelegenheit to see if anyone was driving from Copenhagen to Hamburg. As luck would have it, there were at least four trips that afternoon. In my second attempt I booked a seat that was leaving in an hour. It turned out I was traveling with a van-load of young people who went to Copenhagen for the demonstration that weekend. I thought they already left me behind. But I still ended up sitting beside protester, and this time, with their placards. They were the same optimistic bunchwho have left with the bus. I think I was with the right crowd, and going to the right direction all along.