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Tibet Third Pole: Copenhagen Contrasts

December 24, 2009

Tibet Third Pole: Copenhagen Contrasts

Tibet Third Pole's experience of being in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in December 2009 was full of contrasts.

There was hope at the possibility of witnessing an historic breakthrough for climate justice and despair at the realisation that the negotiations were stalling. Amazement at the number of people at COP15 who care and work for environmental issues and yet disgust at the amount of inefficiency of the process (typified by the astonishing amount of paper waste the conference was producing). Surprise at the amount of support from the Danish public for the Tibet issue and shock at the treatment of peaceful protestors by the Danish police. And not least, there was a sense of achievement as Tibetans lobbied delegates for the first time at a global climate conference and a sense of futility as we learnt our accreditation was being cancelled along with the majority of other NGOs.

Tibet Third Pole team members began to arrive in Copenhagen several days before the official conference began on 7 December. Our goals were to take our message to the delegates of COP15, to liaise with journalists and make ourselves available for interviews, to network with NGOs working on similar issues or in the same region, and to raise awareness of the issues with all those in Copenhagen - government officials, activists and public alike.

Our first week centred on public events and press work. The week began with several film screenings ("Undercover in Tibet" and "Meltdown in Tibet") at a downtown Copenhagen theatre. Both screenings were near sell-outs. Two panel discussions were also held, both open to the public, one at Klimaforum (the alternative NGO climate conference) and one downtown. Both panel discussions allowed Tibet Third Pole team members to discuss in detail climate change on the Tibetan plateau and the impact it is having on Tibetans and those living downstream. The Klimaforum panel discussion was particularly successful; with standing-room only for over 150 people packed into the room!

In between the public events we focussed on the media. We issued a number of press releases during the conference, contacted numerous journalists known to be in Copenhagen and held two press conferences, one at Klimaforum and the second in the Bella Centre (the venue of the main conference). The latter was streamed live on the official COP15 website and can accessed via the archive at: http://tinyurl.com/yc5re6y.

However, perhaps the most successful aspect of our media work took place in the hallways and general access areas in the Bella Centre. Having Tibetans in traditional dress and monks in their robes made our group very visible and many journalists would approach us as we were walking around the complex or even when we were seated having a meeting. We lost count of the number of "spontaneous" interviews that team members gave. Interviews were given to media outlets from around the world, the highlight perhaps being the French TV channel Canal +, who interviewed the Tibetan delegation for over 15 minutes. The Tibetans also attracted many photographers, one fine example, of Ngawang Woeber, appeared as a half page photo in the Swedish newspaper, Goteborgs Posten (which can also be seen online at http://tinyurl.com/y8kmola). The Tibetans also conducted many interviews throughout the two weeks with media broadcasting into Tibet, i.e. Voice of Tibet, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

At the end of the first week, on Saturday 12 December, Tibet Third Pole and Tibet supporters participated in the Climate march, which attracted an estimated 100,000 people. Five members of Students for a Free Tibet from the UK and Germany joined the team on the march. With over 100 Tibetans and supporters, including 3 yaks and numerous Tibet flags, the Tibet contingent made a colourful impact on the proceedings. Unfortunately Dhardon did not get to address the crowd as had been anticipated, due to various miscommunications from the organisers. However, we were pleased with the prevalence of Tibetan flags and Tibet Third Pole banners in the press coverage of the march. Examples of which can be seen at:
Sydsvenskan (Sweden): http://w2.sydsvenskan.se/bildspel/KMcop15/
The Scotsman (UK): http://tinyurl.com/ye79nyr.

On Sunday we gathered at Klimaforum to continue with our networking with other NGOs and to plan our strategies for the second week. As a bonus, the Tibetan yaks were invited to perform on stage during Climate Justice Now!'s Peoples Assembly. The Tibetan presence at the Klimaforum was accentuated throughout the two weeks of COP15 with an exhibition of photographs of Tibetan nomads.

We returned to the Bella Centre at the beginning of the second week to focus our efforts on lobbying delegates and members of country's negotiation teams. We broke into two teams and armed with leaflets, press releases and the open letter to COP15 delegates from the International Parliamentary Network on Tibet, we headed off to the delegation offices. Over the next two days all the delegations with offices (approximately 40 countries plus another 20 consisting of confederations, alliances and governmental organisations) were visited and at the very least given information on Tibet Third Pole. Many officials welcomed the team members and listened to their concerns, often in informal meetings over tea. Tibetans managed to speak to a number of negotiation team members including those from Finland, India, Japan, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey. In general, there was acknowledgement of the importance of the issue and considerable support.

There were also chance meetings including with the Indian Minister of Environment, who gratefully received the Tibet Third Pole information, and the Bhutanese negotiator who just happened to sit at our table during lunch.

Even the Chinese delegation did not escape our lobbying efforts. Even though we were denied access to their daily press briefings, Tenzin Norbu still managed to hand over the TIbet Third Pole information to one of the Chinese ministers as he exited one of the briefings. The minister also accepted a khatag from Norbu! There was no direct response to the information, but at least we know the Chinese government was aware of our presence.

Actually, we were already fairly sure that China knew of TIbet Third Pole's presence at COP15. Over the weekend the Tibet Third Pole website was hacked and throughout the conference was attacked by a torrent of spam - an indication that our friends are not too happy with the message we are promoting. But at least they have taken notice!

With two days of lobbying under our belts we were looking forward to the next stage which was to lobby individual delegates at the plenary sessions (which we had learned was possible in between official statements that were to be read out during the day). In particular we hoped to meet those delegates who did not have offices, such as the smaller nations downstream from the Tibetan plateau. However, accreditation to almost all NGOs was cancelled on Tuesday night and only a handful of civil society representatives were allowed into the Bella Centre for the rest of the conference, making a mockery of the transparency and accountability of the process that had been promised prior to the start of COP15.

Despite this setback, we switched our focus back to the Klimaforum, networking and continuing with our media work. Following the success of the panel discussion at  Klimaforum during the first week, we decided to take the opportunity of hosting a second event. On Wednesday, this time in a larger hall, we attracted 250 activists who heard about a variety of environmental issues affecting Tibetans and about political prisoners who have been detained for speaking out about environmental issues in Tibet. Clips were shown from films including "Leaving Fear Behind" and "Lhamo Tso: Behind the Sea".

An unexpected bonus was the arrival of Thubten Samdup, the Dalai Lama's representative to Northern Europe and the UK, and his acceptance to be a guest speaker at one of our events. Thubten Samdup had come to Denmark to discuss with Danish ministers the recent statements made by the Danish government over the Tibet issue. Not only did he take time out of his busy schedule to meet the Tibet Third Pole team and give a public talk, he also attended a special "dialogue" meeting arranged by Tibet Third Pole between Tibetans and Chinese community members living in Denmark. This meeting was set-up to allow discussion of common issues, especially concerning the environment. The "green dialogue" was so successful that at the end of the meeting the suggestion was made to form a Chinese-Tibetan friendship group in Denmark.

As our time came to an end in Copenhagen we reflected on our experiences. The overwhelming feeling was one of success. We had spread the message of Tibet Third Pole to our intended audiences - to COP15 delegations, to the media, to other NGOs and activists, and to the public. The response from those we lobbied, gave interviews to and networked with, can be summed up as "Wow, we didn't know about this. This is important. This issue has to be heard." However, we were disappointed that we did not get to do more lobbying, especially with smaller, downstream nations.

Given the hundreds of voices at the conference, and given our relatively small team and limited resources, we achieved much and the experience gained was invaluable. However, we also realised that this is just a beginning. There is much to still to do, especially if we want to see such forums make decisions that will mean positive change for those living on the Tibetan plateau.

Though COP15 ended with a poor, unambitious, non-legally binding accord, which will is viewed by many with disdain and disappointment, by contrast the Tibet Third Pole team left Copenhagen feeling encouraged and hopeful. Encouraged that we have brought the Tibetan voice to the Climate Change forum and have been listened to, and hopeful that there is potential to influence the decision-makers at future forums.

These are our first steps on a long path - a path we believe will bring significant change to Tibet, Tibetans and those living downstream from the world's third pole.

(Paul Golding, co-Campaigns Coordinator, ITSN. 23 December 2009)

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