Letters from Copenhagen Green Hopenhagen

Sigrun Maria Kristinsdottir Special to the News Copenhagen 'Dejlige dejlige Kobenhavn" are the first words in an old song all Danes know.


‘Dejlige dejlige Kobenhavn” are the first words in an old song all Danes know.

In English, the words are, “Wonderful wonderful Copenhagen” and, at the beginning of December, Copenhagen is indeed wonderful – perhaps even more wonderful than usual.

Since I first visited as a child, Copenhagen has been one of my favourite cities. I was, and still am, charmed by its lily-covered ponds and palaces decorated by verdigris roofs.

The green hue has a brighter and more focused tone now, as the Danish nation takes enormous pride in hosting a conference we hope will change the world. It shows in just about everything turning green in Copenhagen. It also shows in the Danes’ play on words – the city is decorated with posters advertising Hopenhagen, newspaper articles refer to the city as CO2pehangen, and in some instances, the city has been described as Openhagen.

The Bella Center conference halls and corridors echo with big hopes for the outcome of the two-week meeting.

At the opening ceremony, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Pedersen noted the 15th Conference of the Parties was taking place at a time of unprecedented political will, and Denmark’s Climate Minister and COP15 President Connie Hedegard stated the political will to address climate change has never been stronger.

“If we miss this chance, it may take years to get the next one,” she said.

Several guests have pointed out a worldwide, legally binding agreement to reduce the world’s CO2 emissions is the only acceptable outcome.

The Danes appear to take their role as hosts very seriously.

To a certain degree, this is no stretch as Denmark is a very green country. Most of its electricity is created by windmills and their national railway company has washed its trains with rainwater for two decades.

So it’s perhaps no wonder that creative green ideas abound here.

The traditional Christmas tree stands 17 metres tall in Copenhagen City Hall Square, twinkling merrily in the afternoon dusk. In the past, the tree’s 700 LED bulbs have been powered by a distant windmill plant, but this year, the square has been equipped with 15 bicycles which, when pedaled, light up the tree.

In other parts of the city, ice sculptures of the famous statue of the Little Mermaid, inspired by H.C. Andersen’s story, melt away in the cool December air and every bookstore displays a new Danish climate-friendly cookbook.

The city is alive with music and short theatre pieces, and a special effort is being made to include Copenhagers in the festivities.

A spokesperson at the conference’s Copenhagen booth explained, “the city officials worried that the conference guests would not leave the Bella Centre (where the conference is held) and wanted to give the locals a festival in connection to COP15. Therefore, we’ve placed huge emphasis on creating a festive spirit in downtown Copenhagen by offering concerts by famous Danish bands, among other fun activities.”

Apparently the strategy works. Locals attend these shows alongside the foreign visitors.

The party downtown may serve another, perhaps accidental purpose.

A rather embarrassing detail has emerged – around 34,000 participants have applied for accreditation (among those, 5,000 media people), making it by far the largest meeting held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the Bella Center only takes 15,000 people at any given time.

Therefore, the time will arise when participants will be denied access and will have to entertain themselves in the city.

Among these 35,000 guests are about a dozen Yukon government officials, because, of course, the Yukon has a presence at COP15 like the rest of Canada.

One of them is Deputy Premier and Environment Minister Elaine Taylor, who recently said she wanted to raise awareness of how the North can be affected by climate change while finding ways to curb emissions and adapt to ongoing changes.

“Even if we were to stop all of our emissions today, we would still have to adapt to changes and there’s no question these changes are alive and well in the Yukon,” Taylor told the Canadian Press.

“In the North, we are experiencing changes in the caribou herds, many of which are in decline … it’s affecting our roads and infrastructure.”

It is also clear that Canada, as a whole, needs to do better.

On the first day, Canada received third place in the Fossil of the Day awards ceremony, and was granted the first place on the second day.

The awards, hosted daily by the Climate Action Network, are awarded the country, or countries presumed to be doing the most to obstruct progress in the global climate talks.

Canada received its third-place award for federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice’s proclamation his fellow citizens “won’t be swayed” by Copenhagen “hype.”

We shared the first-place award with Croatia, because, “Canada, in particular, has been relentlessly opposed to measuring emissions in relation to the internationally accepted base year of 1990, in favour of – as a senior negotiator put it in a stakeholder meeting – a ‘more contemporary’ base year,” the CAN website states, adding Canadian tarsands emissions have more than doubled from 1990 to now.

Sigrun Maria Kristinsdottir is an Icelandic/Canadian writer who, until recently, lived in the Yukon. Today

she lives in Reykjavik. She can be reached at sigrunm@yahoo.com.