Science - December 3, 2009

Wageningen at the CO2penhagen fair

Some call the climate summit in Copenhagen a circus. Others call it a knowledge exchange. Professor Pier Vellinga talks about it almost affectionately as a fair. A fair you have to go to if you are a 'pedlar of ideas and techniques'. The Wageningen delegation consists of a few dozen scientists and students. They are going to look, to learn, or to campaign. Meet a few of Wageningen's climate fair goers...

The hub of the official Dutch contribution in Copenhagen is the Holland Climate House. The was the brainchild of Wageningen professor Pier Vellinga and his colleague Pavel Kabat, who run the research programmes Knowledge for Climate and Space for Climate. In the Holland Climate House the Netherlands displays its climate research wares. For ten day the Climate House will host lectures, debate and demonstrations. 'Copenhagen is a great marketplace for ideas and techniques,' says Vellinga. 'A farmer goes to market to buy and sell cows; for us it's all about tons of CO 2 . You go to the fair to exchange the latest news, keep up with each other and meet colleagues from abroad.'
Pier Vellinga and some of the crew of the Holland Climate House are staying on board a boat in Copenhagen. The Twister will be moored in the Amalia harbour for two weeks. This was Vellinga's idea, as a way round the shortage of hotel rooms. The 29 metre-long fishing boat was converted into a luxury yacht eleven years ago. It sleeps twenty.  And it has a bar with draught beer.
Pier Vellinga, co-host at the Holland Climate House
The Climate House is the stage on which Vellinga sets out his Wageningen stall, in his role as head salesman. Many politicians, managers and scientists from home and abroad have been invited to visit the house. What will be the signs of success? Vellinga: 'If we pick up new ideas and forge a network of international climate researchers. If we learn from others and others learn from us. And if we have some fun together. That's allowed too if Copenhagen is a success.' Vellinga's wish list for the negotations is clear. 'For me it's a success if political agreement is reached over a sizeable reduction in CO2 emissions: Twenty to thirty percent in 2020 and about eighty percent in 2050. And financial support for the third world countries and a big contribution from China and India.'
Vellinga is not involved in the negotiations himself. 'In that respect we are in the fringe programme. But sometimes you wonder what is main programme and what is fringe. The politicians make the agreements, but we are the ones who will have to put those agreements into practice.'
Needless to say the negotiations will be followed closely. Literally: 'The Dutch negotiating team is very close to us, so we are in the thick of it. Minister Cramer will pop in every day if possible.'
Judith Jobse, teacher at VHL in Velp, and seventeen students of tropical forestry
'It's a coincidence really', explains Jobse. A month and a half ago, Jobse contacted the Global Forest Coalition (GFC). She didn't know the organization, but thought it might be of interest for the courses she teaches on the major in Tropical Foresty. 'This block I've been doing Forest Policy. It turned out that they were keen to get some contacts among students from the Netherlands.' And the contact led to the offer of a trip to Copenhagen. Jobse and her colleague Arjen Hettema are taking seventeen students along. The GFC is an international coalition that aims to preserve the tropical forests for the indigenous people who are dependent on them. The Copenhagen summit is crucial for this. Reducing deforestation plays a key role in reducing CO 2 emissions. The GFC wants to draw attention to the problem. They want our students to do that in the Netherlands by interviewing politicians and making videos for the internet.' Jobse sees the six-day trip as a great opportunity for the Velp students to 'take a look behind the scenes'. 'They are allowed in the public gallery in the conference centre during the negotiations. And then there are loads of other events where they can listen, debate and ask questions.'
Koen Kramer, researcher at Alterra
Koen Kramer will be selling his message at the market of the Holland Climate House. Kramer argues for adaptation of ecosystems to climate change. 'The point I want to make is that at the moment, nature in the Netherlands cannot cope with climate change. It will be pushed over the edge by the predicted droughts and wet spells. The question is how you can get policy and management to help you steer a course towards a more adaptable system. Think about your dominant vegetation, will it survive, and is it varied enough? A second track is the diversity of your threatened species. Prevent an 'ecological Schiphol fire' in which a species is locked up in its corner and cannot escape. We must not hark back to a reference point in the past. Let adaptation takes it course and make sure that rare species get a place in the landscape. It doesn't always have to mean more square kilometres of nature reserves.  An example: we now have over 300 thousand hectares of fir in the Netherlands. It's worth asking ourselves whether that couldn't be put to better use, ecologically. That's the Dutch situation, but it's the same all over Europe. We need to anticipate the coming changes. We still have time now. If you wait until the crunch comes, you're too late.
Suzanne Maas, MSc student of Environmental Sciences
Somewhere in amongst the enormous fringe programme there is a short documentary to be seen: La gente y el medio ambiente. People and the environment, by Suzanne Maas and her friend, journalist AndrĂ© Weststrate. The film is about the effects of deforestation in Nicaragua. Suzanne worked there for four months this year with the Fundacion del Rio, a local development and environmental organization. She is carrying on with this voluntary work in Copenhagen. But even more important perhaps is Project Survival. 'Through this project, nine young Africans are going to Copenhagen to help their countries' delegations during the negotiations.' Poor countries have small delegations. Maas saw this for herself when she was FairClimate ambassador to the climate negotiations in Poznan last year. 'The inquality starts right from there. Those delegations can't attend all the meetings. And so they can't vote on everything.'  In Copenhagen, Maas and her colleagues (including five other Wageningen students) are going to support the Africans. 'We also draw the attention of the media to the problem of the small delegations and the right of young people to contribute to decisions about their own future.' 
Kees Slingerland, director of Alterra and chair of the planned Delta Alliance
Convert people. That's what Kees Slingerland aims to do in Copenhagen.  Drum up support for the Delta Alliance to be set up next year. 'The idea is to form an international network around knowledge on the deltas of the world.' Because there's a real need for such a network, says Slingerland. 'Deltas are very vulnerable to climate change. If sea levels go up, deltas are the first to be affected. At the same time, more than half the world's population live in delta areas, which also contain a lot of real estate, agricultural land and biodiversity. The Delta Alliance is a Dutch initiative. 'But it is not a Dutch export product. It is absolutely not the case that we are going to call the tune', Slingerland stresses. Above all, the Delta Alliance will share the available knowledge and apply it as fast as possible. The collaboration should also lead to better harmonization with research. 'We can't really coordinate that.  We are not in charge, but we hope that research programmes will become more efficient and more in tune with each other.' At present, Indonesia, Vietnam and California have joined in. 'And we are working closely with the Estuaria Alliance of the Worldwide Fund for Nature.'