Bette Harms, a Communication Sciences student in Wageningen, spent two weeks among the delegates and lobbyers at the recent international conference on climate change in Montreal, Canada. She was one of the representatives of the Greenpeace Solar Generation Project at the conference, which took place from 28 November to 9 December. The idea was to convince politicians that they need to continue to take measures to deal with climate change when the Kyoto protocol comes to an end in 2012. The ‘stuffy politicians’ turned out to be human after all at the parties held in the evenings: ‘delegates from different countries were standing there kissing each other.’
Polar bear suit
‘Despite the cold the demonstration was a big success. There were forty thousand people. In the Solar Generation team we had made our own banners and five wore polar-bear suits. They were the lucky ones, as it was minus twelve and even with six layers of clothing I was freezing. It was also a bit strange to be singing ‘It’s getting hot in here’. The demonstration was very well organised and you were not aware of the police presence. The demonstrators couldn’t see them, but behind the stage I saw rows of police cars and there were also lots of police waiting underground.
‘The ministers only arrived at the end of the second week. We organised a special ministers’ day, when we invited them all to come to our stand. There they had to pin their country’s flag on a big hand with the words ‘Hands up for Kyoto 2’. We were worried that no one would dare, but it went really well. We had not expected anyone from China to come. But at one point we heard that someone from the delegation was going to come. And ten minutes before they called to say it would be the minister himself. He hung up his country’s flag and said to the press that he wanted to continue with Kyoto. It was a very emotional moment for the two Chinese Solar Generation students. The Chinese girl burst into tears she was so happy.
‘I wrote my thesis on the position of NGOs in the globalising world. I had already read a lot, but during the conference I saw the process with my own eyes: the NGOs there play a very important role. They have access everywhere, and can even submit proposals. The delegations even approach them actively, as the NGOs often have lots of facts at their fingertips. The big environmental organisations produced a daily newspaper during the conference in which the delegates could read what had happened the day before as well as commentary from the NGOs. And it was not only the environmental organisations that were present at the conference: all stakeholders were represented, from Eskimos to the aluminium industry. And there was someone from the nuclear industry near our stand who walked around the whole day with a nuclear rod in his hand.
‘What I noticed during the conference was the openness. It’s easy to go up and talk to people; everyone has time. People also just come up and join conversations. That’s really what the conference is about: establishing contacts and getting information. We had a lot of fun together, and that made us stand out from all those stuffy politicians. But they seemed to like coming and chatting with us. Even politicians are human when it comes down to it, and that was very clear at the parties in the evenings. There they were, delegates from different countries kissing each other. Conferences are very sociable occasions. A lot comes down to a feeling of trust. The success of the conference depends on the personal contacts that arise there. And whether or not the vibes are good.’