In Copenhagen’s first crush, UN has more delegates than seats at the table

Activists demand a "real deal" at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Photo: Jeff McMahon

Activists demand a "real deal" at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Photo: Jeff McMahon

COPENHAGEN–The UN Climate Conference is under siege in Copenhagen, but not yet from the expected crowds of protestors. As the conference opens today, the masses that have crowded the meeting place include 34,000 delegates from nations and non-governmental organizations.

That’s more than double the number of people the UN can accommodate at the meetings venue, the Bella Center in suburban Ørestad, which can hold about 15,000. More than 5,000 members of the press have also sought credentials to cover the event.

On the eve of the proceedings Sunday, young Danes wearing COP-15 polo shirts were greeting delegates at the airport with smiles, maps, and information packets. But Danish police were turning away many of those same prospective participants at the security gate that connects the Bella Center to Copenhagen’s array of train and Metro lines.

“But we have come all the way from China,” one delegate protested. “Please let us in.”

Late Sunday, the UN announced quotas for delegates from non-government organizations to ease the overcrowding:

“Due to these constraints, NGO delegates will be allowed access to the building according to a quota system that was implemented at the most recent (UN climate) gathering in Barcelona in November. According to this system, only a prearranged percentage of each organization’s representatives will be allowed access to the building during peak times.”

Danish authorities expect a second human crush to arrive next week, a flood of protestors timed to coincide with the culmination of negotiations and the arrival of heads of state, including President Barack Obama.

Protestors plan a march on Dec. 12, which protest groups have declared a global day of action, as well as citywide non-violent actions culminating on Dec. 18. Most protestors are urging states to take action against climate change, but the Copenhagen conference has also attracted opponents who fear it sets the stage for one-world government or worse.

The Danish legislature passed a new law allowing preemptive arrests and is preparing for the protestors with kennel-like cages that can hold large numbers of detainees.

While it’s easy to imagine protestors disrupting life on Copenhagen’s 18th and 19th Century avenues, the Bella Center is located just outside of the city in what is essentially a construction site, an incomplete residential and commercial redevelopment where access is more easily restricted.

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