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United Nations to Youth: Speak up, but not when Obama is here
by Sara Peach

I wrote earlier about the flood of youth-led media stunts in the Bella Center in Copenhagen, where the UN climate negotiations are ongoing.

This week, that flood is slowing.

As the conference gears up for the arrival of heads of state later this week, the United Nations is cutting the number of people allowed to enter the Bella Center. The UN announced in an e-mail yesterday that more than 45,000 people had applied to attend the conference three times the capacity of the building.

As a result, only 30 percent of accredited "observers," the term for the research and nonprofit organizations to which most activists belong, were allowed in the Bella Center Tuesday. By Friday, when Obama arrives, only 90 observers will be allowed in the building. The Guardian reports that on that day, more U.S. marines will be present than observers.

I've heard quite a bit of grumbling among the activists about the restrictions. The UN's message, in their reading, is that activist voices are welcome at the conference, but only until the politicians arrive to conduct the real business of a global climate deal. For instance, here is an excerpt from a press release circulated on the UNFCCC youth listserv:

Starting Tuesday Dec 15th, access to the most important meeting on the planet has been locked down - leaving more than 15,000 accredited representatives from civil society excluded from these negotiations about our planet, people, forests and future!
The rich polluting countries have dominated COP-15 and trampled the concerns of those most impacted by climate change. With closed plenary sessions, 80% of NGOs excluded, and Green Room deals, the process is not accountable or transparent.

Meanwhile, officials are maintaining strict control of the remaining activists. On Tuesday, I saw this official herding away a group of Avaaz (avaaz.org) activists posing as fossil-fuel lobbyists.

The conflict will likely intensify Wednesday, as the anti-corporate group Climate Justice Action mobilizes activists into mass civil disobedience outside the Bella Center:

On the 16th of December, at the start of the high-level 'ministerial' phase of the two-week summit, we, the movements for global justice, will take over the conference for one day and transform it into a Peoples Assembly.
Our goal is to disrupt the sessions and open a space inside the UN area to hold the Assembly. The assembly will give a voice to those who are not being heard, it will be an opportunity to change the agenda, to discuss the real solutions, to send a clear message to the world calling for climate justice.

American youth activist Brianna Cayo Cotter told me today that many of the youth who have lost access will join the Climate Justice Action demonstration. Meanwhile, she said, the remaining observers in the Bella Center will likely hold a mass walkout at noon Wednesday.

Sara Peach is reporting from Copenhagen thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Committee on Crisis Reporting.

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December 15, 2009