Dispatch from Copenhagen: Crowds, poor food, and possible limits on attendees

What’s it like at the 192-nation climate summit in Copenhagen? “Welcome to the zoo,” shrugs Stephen Harper, director of environmental and energy policy at Intel, as he makes his way through the crowds. The Bella convention center venue itself gets high marks—far better than the facilities at last year’s United Nations Climate Conference in Poznań, Poland, for instance. But even if the plenary session rooms are huge and spiffy, the food at the Bella Center leaves much to be desired (“poor food, poorly prepared,” sniffs one company representative) and the place is jammed.

In fact, so many people have registered for the conference (34,000, according to the UN) that some may be shut out next week. Some groups have been told that, starting Monday, December 14th, secondary passes may be issued—to as few as 30% of the current registrants. Only those with the new passes will be able to attend. And rumors are beginning to circulate that the numbers will be cut yet again later in the week, when U.S. President Barack Obama and other heads of state are scheduled to arrive. As a result, some observers from companies and non-profit groups are planning to leave earlier than they had scheduled.

More substantively, long-time observers of the climate change negotiating process say that the outcome of this conference is more uncertain than it ever was during past events. “I’ve been to ten or twelve of these,” says Harper. “I almost always know what would come out in the end. But this time, I have no idea what’s going to come out.” The real news probably won’t happen until close to the December 18th end of the conference.

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