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COP-17: First Impressions; The Good and Bad

December 7, 2011

Alex Todd

With the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) taking place in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 until December 9, the world is watching. As a member of the York University delegation for the second week of the conference, I am midway through a week of side events, interviews, information booths, and a COP-crazy Durban. This is my first time attending a Conference of the Parties. My first day of the conference was Monday, December 5. Below are some of my first impressions from my first day of COP – the good and the bad.

Overall, the conference seems rather sophisticated, with most of the action split between the Durban Exhibition Centre (DEC) and the International Conference Centre (ICC), located right next to one another in the heart of downtown Durban. Most of my time here is spent in the DEC, which is home to approximately 200 information booths set up by a variety of institutions and organizations (including the York University / Inuit Youth Delegation headquarters – booth 197).

The information booths include pamphlets and other organization publications, as well as games and other giveaways, and allow for an effective use of time in between other events. The DEC contains several side event rooms with open delegate access, a media area, a computer centre with computers provided, and an area designed for bloggers to blog on their laptops.

Aside from additional side events and presentations not open for general delegate access, the ICC is also home to various information areas and transportation / travel information for delegates from out of town.

Furthermore, I have found the staff and volunteers at COP17 to be very helpful and friendly. They do a good job of keeping things running smoothly with their hard work.

The Bad

I, and several co-delegates, were perplexed by how difficult it can be to get a straight forward list of the day’s side events. There is a printed list of the day’s side events (complete with time and room) located in the DEC, but otherwise delegates are expected to get the day’s information on one of the CCTV screens located in the DEC and ICC. The screens contain a rolling list, requiring delegates to stand by and wait for the events of interest to appear so the time and room information can be recorded before it disappears. Daily programmes are printed and distributed at the publications counters in the DEC and ICC, yet these printouts include mainly a list of key international representatives and a limited side events list (inconveniently excluding the open events). Why not include the full event listing? I am at a loss. Highlighted on one of the programmes is a list containing some of the day’s open events, while omitting the times the events take place. Again I am baffled.

While not a huge impediment, I was struck by an irony regarding registration. Durban is packed with posters, banners and other advertising for COP17, from the airport to the downtown cityscape.

Yet, there appeared to be very little advertising for where to register for the conference. I walked all around the demarcated conference grounds until finally coming to the registration/entrance tent.

One problem with so many side events occurring simultaneously is that neighbouring speakers are always clearly and loudly audible in any given side event room. This becomes a distraction and makes the speakers harder to fully hear and follow. Perhaps this is something that simply cannot be avoided.

Lastly, there is a significant shortage of chairs in the computer centre and blogger’s loft, as well as in eating areas. When things are especially busy, one can watch ordinary delegates degenerate (somewhat understandably) into sneaky, selfish chair seekers. Again, this is an issue perhaps not easily avoidable, given the huge number of delegates and the finite amount of conference space.

Concluding Remarks

On the whole, I am thus far impressed with COP17, aside from a few snags here and there. The conference itself (as a physical space) seems an overall success. Whether or not the conference will be a success in terms of making any progress toward any kind of climate justice is another issue – we will have a better sense of that before long. Unfortunately, few have high hopes.


Arviat Youth Delegation Booth

Caravan of Hope in Durban

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Caravan of Hope in Durban

Demember 5, 2011

Ewa Modlinska

Global Day of Action rally on the streets of Durban bring inspiration and hope to the 17th Conference of Parties in South Africa.

Let me introduce to you Ndayiragije Diendonne, who travelled on a bus more than seven thousands kilometres from Burundi to make his voice heard at the climate change conference in Durban. Ndayiragije is part of the Trans-African “Caravan of Hope” where 300 farmers, youth, and activists from 10 eastern and southern African countries took busses to arrive at COP17 and try to tell the world how climate change is affecting their communities. After all, COP17 is hosted on African soil. And the people here, already disadvantaged by the current economic and political system, are and will continue to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Before Saturday’s Global Day of Action protest, important gatherings took place in parks and the KwaZulu-Natal University where people shared their stories and talked about what climate justice means to them.

Before Saturday’s Global Day of Action protest, important gatherings took place in parks and the KwaZulu-Natal University where people shared their stories and talked about what climate justice means to them.

Unfortunately, I was at the Convention Centre listening to a United States representative give a media update of hoping to achieve a “balanced outcome”, of major economies not being prepared to sign a legally binding agreement, and of different governments taking different pathways – the same old story.  But what I can write here are some of the messages that were voiced at the protest: “our Africa, our climate, our rights”, “protect our workers and communities”, “grow food, not emissions”, “listen to the people”, “respect the earth”,  “time for climate justice”…

Ndayiragije and the Trans-African Caravan of Hope are leaving Durban today because they do not have the money to stay until the end of the week when the COP17 negotiations come to an end. Meaningful participation of people from the ‘developing’ world in future COPs means that there should be financial resources for both the official delegates as well as for people from affected communities. Climate justice is about building institutional spaces within the United Nations so that ‘people’, and not just official delegates, get to participate in the formation of international law on climate change. The distance between the official delegates in the Convention Centre and those who are protesting outside is too big.

I have asked Ndayiragije if he believed that COP17 would result in an agreement. He just smiled. “Then your seven thousand kilometers journey was a waste of time”, I responded too quickly. He looked at me and then at the protest, and said, “no, this is not a waste of time.”

For videos from the protest, please click on the links below:




Ndayiragije Diendonne