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Notes from Copenhagen

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Stepping into the conference center at the United Nations Climate Change Conference is like stepping into an international river. A rush of people from all over the world constantly streams along the hallways, meeting rooms, work spaces, cafes and conference displays. Many delegates speed through on their way to strategy and negotiations sessions, while others stop into the eddy of a café for a bite to eat. The conference rooms are like creeks branching off the river with intriguing offerings of panels, commentators, and research reports put on by one of hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accredited at the conference.

This conference brings together delegations from nearly 200 countries responsible for negotiating agreements -- on everything you want to know about climate change. At any moment, you can find delegation press briefings, creative youth actions on specific policy, or an international climate expert giving a talk.

Before coming to the talks, I had not envisioned these two events happening simultaneously in the same place, but they are co-dependent. The NGO presence and the observations, information, and action they create is a present and powerful reminder of why these talks are happening. Additionally, the NGO delegations receive regular briefings from various players in the talks creating a level of accountability.

As an elected official who cares a lot about how people engage in the political decision-making process, I am fascinated by the relationship between negotiations and the wider conference, and I have made a few observations about the process including:

1) The NGOs are incredibly important and useful. The preparation, expertise, and perspective they offer contribute to the overall direction of the talks. It is also important for a dialogue to happen among all the groups, even if the dialogue is as simple as sharing the same space.

2) The youth NGOs (YOUNGOs) are particularly well-organized and thoughtful about how to communicate their presence and concerns related to the negotiations. Youth do not necessarily have a seat as parties, but they are recognized as a constituency group and they have one of the greatest stakes as a constituency group in the outcome of the talks. This combination calls for creativity in how to engage in the talks effectively, and the youth are prepared. They invariably show up at high level briefings with well-framed questions, and their actions are tied to specific policy discussions on the table. The US youth delegation is 500 strong, and they are a part of a much larger international youth presence. As a policy mentor for delegates in the Will Steger Foundation, I have been honored to see the commitment of these young people.

3) Many of the people at the conference have one ear to the talks and a focus outside. Countless numbers of iPhones, cameras and laptops are connected to and communicating with people around the world. All of these links are being used to communicate, interpret, and advocate about the talks. It makes for a somewhat disjointed feel about where the focus of each individual actually is.

The conference continues to ramp up in intensity. The seriousness of the issues being negotiated and the arrival of worldwide leaders in the coming days will only increase the pressure. With such complicated, high stakes negotiations, the rush of the river will speed up, take unexpected turns, and perhaps slow at times. But the way is clear. These talks need to result in an agreement that will put people around the world to work slowing climate change.

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  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.

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