Saturday was our first day at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Jeanette Fitzsimons and I, along with staff member Rick Leckinger, are attending. It is a remarkable event in itself, as well as being critical in substance.
Two quick things to clear up.
First, yes we expended carbon getting here, along with the other participants. But we financially offset this out of our own pocket (I have paid about $1500 this year on flying offsets, and am happy to do this. One day perhaps, we shall not need to do this, but until then I shall do so). Also, the Danish Government is achieving the remarkable feat of ensuring that the conference is carbon neutral. John Key and McCully will do well to meet that challenge for the 2011 World Cup.
Second, it is not, as some NZ Government ministers have said in Parliament recently, unpatriotic for opposition MPs to be here. In addition to Jeanette and me, Labour’s Charles Chauvel is here. We are here to understand the process, make a positive contribution to a successful outcome, and critique our own Government where we disagree with its views and policies. This is what we do back home, inside the House and outside it. It is called democracy – at the global level, not just the national. It is unworthy of the any government member to impugn the patriotism of us three. I shall call them on it in the House if they continue that ruse in 2010.
That said, let me say where I stand on ‘patriotism’. I love New Zealand as much as any compatriot. I love Earth equally. Aotearoa is one component part of the planet and I do not believe we have sovereign rights to take advantage of the other 192 nation-states or the other 6, 750 million humans when we are at a critical state in facing the greatest global threat humanity has yet confronted. So my national patriotism is subordinate to my patriotism to Earth. Whereas Earth has historically been seen only as a geological entity in a cosmic context, today the global community is emerging as a political entity. This requires fine and prudent judgement and we are each obliged as individuals to exercise that as best we can. Such a judgement can no longer rest on a mindless pursuit of the competitive national interest that devastates the global commons. Whenever I criticise the Government, it will derive from that philosophical world-view which may well differ from those of the Prime Minister and Ministers Smith and Groser, for all of whom I have considerable respect.
Back to the practicalities. Saturday morning we registered and got our bearings, and met several delegates for the first time. In the afternoon, we participated in the extraordinary public rally that has probably been broadcast around the world. A massive and good-humoured crowd – estimated between 60,000 to 100,000, wended its way from city centre to the conference site from 1.00 pm to 5.00pm. Having confined my protests over the years to the Byzantine dangers of intellectual opposition within the establishment, I had not hit the streets frequently – in fact, not once. So notwithstanding the Northern cold, this virgin demonstrator had an enjoyable first time, not least linking up with the NZ youth delegation who are bringing a breath of fresh air to multilateral diplomacy. May their dreams of inter-generational justice be realised.
Back in the office, the sights are strange and wondrous. Some 34,000 have applied to participate where the limit is 15,000. This includes 110 national leaders. John Key will be one, although inexplicably he has chosen not to list himself as the delegation leader, notwithstanding that scores of others have – including Australia, China, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Iran, Italy and Lebanon. Why is our Prime Minister so half-hearted and keen to distance himself? Is it because he lacks the vision and sense of reality to understand the magnitude of what is happening around us, or does he wish he wish to avoid any risk of being shown up? Which is it – dimwittedness or cowardice?
The delegations are huge. New Zealand’s (of which we are not a part) is 23 plus two from Tokelau. Australia’s is 114. Tiny Tuvalu, threatened with sea-level oblivion and making an extraordinary impact on this conference already, has 19. The US has 194. China, of course, has 233. But they are all trumped by Brazil, which has 735. People are taking the future of the planet seriously.
And that is just the officials. In my last job before returning home in 2005, I worked for the UN University. The UNU has 22 here. Back in 1995, I studied on a fellowship in Dhaka with the Bangladesh Institute for Advanced Studies. They do research and policy prescription on sustainability issues. Their country is impoverished, at least materially, their population density is the highest of any nation-state with significant landmass, and they are threatened as much as any by climate change. The Institute has sent 30 at cost. And of course, there is Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. FOE have 250 here. Greenpeace has 118. That includes 12 photographers, 2 musicians, a sound-and-light technician and a video librarian. Just another day at the office. Should they be here? Of course they should. We’re talking about the future of the planet. They have a right, and an abiding interest, and they aim to make a contribution. We thank them for their concern.