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UN's lack of organisation lets down thousands in Copenhagen

Pallavi Aiyar  |  Copenhagen 

“There has never been a United Nations climate conference, be it the one in Bali or Poznan, that has been as disastrously organised as this one in Denmark,” fumed Sunita Narain, the director of an Indian NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment.

Along with thousands of other journalists, NGO workers and representatives of intergovernmental organisations who had been preregistered to attend the COP-15 climate talks in the Danish capital, Narain spent eight hours queuing outside the conference venue in freezing temperatures to pick up her entry pass, before being told curtly by UN authorities to go home and not bother trying again the next day.

The UN has registered more than 45,000 people for the climate meeting for a venue that holds 15,000 people at capacity.

While media and intergovernmental agency representatives were told they may attempt to gain entry on Tuesday once again, civil society groups were informed that although their “support was appreciated”, their numbers would be severely curtailed in the coming days.

The matter blew up to the point that the chair of the African group of countries to the talks, Kamel Djemouai, made reference to the development at a press conference held by the G77 and China late on Monday night. “We are concerned about the limited and restricted participation at the conference,” he said. “We must ask the UN why have you accepted and registered all these people if you cannot take them? NGOs from Africa have a limited budget.”

Hundreds of more people are in fact expected to fly in every day as the week proceeds towards its climax, making it likely that thousands more will remain excluded from the meeting. Anjali Aggarwal, a climatologist from Uttarakhand summed up the sentiment that many of those queuing from developing countries expressed. “If this kind of organisation had happened in India, people would say it was typical third world organisation, but I have never in my life seen anything as bad in India as this COP- 15 organisation in Denmark.”

With occasional spells of light snow and no shelter from Copenhagen’s harsh winter, many of the waiting participants from warmer countries found their feet and hands losing sensation. With queues snaking for 2 kilometres, the UN urged people throughout the day to give up trying to gain admittance and return to their hotels. “But we have paid so much money to come here. Our hotels had to be pre-paid because of Danish government regulations. How can we go back now? Why were we given accreditation if they could not fit us in,” asked one Chinese journalist.

Towards the end of November, it had suspended giving accreditations to the media, stating that too many applications had been made. However last week, it reopened applications.

A Norwegian journalist, who said the whole experience made him “ashamed to be Scandinavian” said his application for accreditation was accepted after the UN reopened for business mid-last week. “They know the numbers of people they have accredited. Why were they accepting applications if they could not accommodate them?”

As rumours circulated that the reasons for the backlog were variously a breakdown in the computer systems for accreditation, lack of IT personnel and simple incompetence, a refrain went up around the waiting crowd. “If only the Danes had outsourced COP-15 to an Indian IT firm!”

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First Published: Wed, December 16 2009. 00:40 IST