An Anthropologist at COP17: CAS PhD student Laura Obermuller has been witnessing events unfold at the Durban climate change talks.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties/ Meeting of the Parties (COP 17/CMP7) Durban, South Africa

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Nelson Mandela

There is always gratification and light when one accomplishes a great task; in some instances we reach the end without obstacles whilst others have to use tactics and overcome challenges to achieve their goal. In cases where many people with different objectives and interests have to collectively climb, then reaching the top is never certain.

Overview: The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC has met annually since 1995 to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The COP adopts decisions and resolutions, published in reports of the COP. Successive decisions taken by the COP make up a detailed set of rules for practical and effective implementation of the convention. The COP serves as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which also adopts decisions and resolutions on the implementation of its provisions. This annual meeting is referred to as the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). However, Parties to the Convention that are not Parties to the Protocol are able to participate in the CMP as observers, but without the right to take decisions. What follows is simply my journal of travelling to, and finding my way around, COP17.

Day 1: Thursday 24th November, 2011: Arriving at Edinburgh Airport my first port of departure, I was informed that the flight would be delayed and this would have implications for my connecting to Cape Town via Amsterdam. In flight I was now told that, although the plane would arrive on time, my luggage might not. So, It was a great relief, arriving in Cape Town at 8 am, to find my bags waiting. I was advised by the airport staff that it was unwise to stay at the airport since there were no other flights until 6:00 and the airport would be deserted; so I decided to check into a hotel nearby.

Day 2: Friday 25th November, 2011: The drive back to the airport from the hotel was breath-taking; the driver pointed out that the peak which had captivated my attention was the famous Table Mountain. My onward flight to Durban was on time and without hassle. On arrival I was met by volunteers from the Conference who handed me a map of the International Conference Centre (ICC) zone and directed me to the pay station for the shuttle. They were all dressed in green and white track suits, some wore green and white caps and all displayed large photo identification badges with the conference logo.

My first major observation had been the large size of the ethnic Indian population here. Durban airport is surrounded by mostly empty land on one side on the other by the sea. During the one hour drive to the ICC I spoke with a member of the Czech Republic Delegation who lives in Pretoria; I got an overview of life in Pretoria and some general information on Durban. On arrival, I saw about 75 people wearing the same green and white outfit I had witnessed at the earlier; three of them quickly came to assist me, taking out my luggage and directing me to the main building. First, they told me, I should visit the registration building where I must collect an identification badge: without it I would not be able to remain on the premises. The three volunteers accompanied me to the hall, one of them insisted on carrying my luggage.

Registration was inside a massive tent, one half had a booth with about 15 people sitting behind a large counter - each operative, at the end of a line of people separated by ropes, with their camera and computer at the ready. In the other half of the tent people were busy installing security scanners whilst others were directing delegates to the registration queues. Everywhere were the little crowds of volunteers.

Now came the tricky part: since I had acquired funding for the conference late, I had not had sufficient time to register and you had to be accredited in order to attend the conference. Initially I had thought of joining the Guyana delegation but this would result in a direct conflict of interest since my current research focuses on the effects of carbon emission trading agreements on Guyanese indigenous communities; these groups are in some cases wary of the government’s proposed ideas regarding emission trading. Therefore, representing Guyana officially at the forum might jeopardise my established relationship with the indigenous people who I intend to work with during my forthcoming field research. Furthermore, some other indigenous groups that I have yet to meet were going to be here too. I met with the registration head and told her my dilemma, she was very helpful and advised that I could be accredited under Guyana, if the head of the Guyana Delegation added my name to their list, or find a non-governmental organisation that had not used up all of their allotted spaces. I was given a temporary badge. To get the badge, I had to submit my passport and the relevant information was logged to the computer data base and my photo taken. The pass was attached to a UNFCCC lanyard. I was then advised by the UNFCCC staff of the name and possible location of the head of the Guyana’s Delegation.



For further information, please contact:

Centre for Amerindian, Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Department of Social Anthropology
School of Philosophical, Anthropological & Film Studies
University of St Andrews
71 North Street
St Andrews, Fife
KY16 9AL Scotland, UK

Phone: +44 (0)1334 462986/2977

Laura (right) with the Caribbean delegation to COP17

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