The strange spectacle of too many heads of government

December 17, 2009

COP15picThere are around 120 heads of government at the Copenhagen climate talks, so many that it’s hard to keep track of the exact number.

Their presence has been trumpeted as a sign of the world’s commitment to tackling climate change. But in return for showing up, they all want a chance to address the conference – and by extension the world.

To fit all the dignitaries in, organizers have slots limited to five short minutes, which would probably be barely enough to cover their introduction back home.

Even so, the presentations are scheduled to go on long past midnight, and have already been running very late – because of course no one can interrupt or turn off the microphone of a head of state. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez managed to hold out for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile talks on agreeing the text of a deal have only just got down to work.

So the two live feeds into our media centre televisions, from the conference centre, are now offering up a strange spectacle.

On one screen there is a steady stream of heads of state, decked out in formal attire from every corner of the world, warning of floods, typhoons, desertification and drought, the urgency of the threat to our world and the need to protect our children.

Messages from the Prime Ministers of Albania, Great Britain, Kuwait, Namibia blur into one another, and when the camera pans back the room is usually half empty.

All the real work is going on in the plenum visible on the other screen, where most of the seats are packed, the speakers are usually anonymous bureaucrats, and up for discussion are commas, brackets and auxiliary verbs – that might just save the world.

One comment

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While I realize speeches can be tedious, it would be enormously helpful if you could report what the heads of state actually said. For example, speech transcripts would be quite useful. It’s not too much to ask, even if the speeches “blur into one another.”

We actually do care what leaders say – it’s the information we need to hold them accountable.

Posted by dwescott1 | Report as abusive