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Climate change summit: A slippery mess of snow and protesters

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — As the sun rose, the streets puffed with the first lasting snow of COP15, and my daily bicycle commute to the train station was a slippery, beautiful mess.  I don’t usually start so early, but we were promised protesters at the

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — As the sun rose Wednesday (a long process in this high-latitude city), the streets puffed with the first lasting snow of COP15, and my daily bicycle commute to the train station was a slippery, beautiful mess.  I don’t usually start so early, but we were promised protesters at the front gate, and I didn’t want to be on the handcuffed end of any social unrest.

But when I got there…nothing.  No protesters, no barricades, not even a line.  Security is still tight, but the access restrictions have apparently been noted.  The pressure at the entrance is no longer a problem.

Inside, the Bella Center has been transformed into a high-security facility, complete with access zones, check-points and closet locks.

Luckily, you don’t mess with the press pass, and after a few commanding nods, I’m in the main plenary hall.

This is where all 192 countries (193, actually — welcome Somalia) review their progress for the world at large.  The session is strained.  Some delegates are having trouble getting through security, and the late nights, complex documents and external pressures are clearly taking their toll.  The tone of some negotiators is right on the edge of all-out frustration, and as their statements make clear, there’s still an enormous amount of work to be done before any sort of deal is ready for signing.

Meanwhile, on a nearby laptop, I see protesters smashing against a wall of police at the front doors.  They’re a bit later than expected, but they are out there, and at least two of them manage to sneak into the hall, jumping up, screaming “climate justice” and skittering electronic buzzers under the seats.

Around 1p.m., with the buzzer people on their way to wherever protesters go (and despite numerous procedural objections from Brazil, China and India), presiding President Lars Lokke Rasmussen moves the working session to another room so the arriving heads of state can deliver their opening remarks.

This is when the “wow” factor really sets in.  There are going to be over 100 top executives in this building by Friday.  (I reported 130 a few days ago, but that number has been revised to around 115, so from now on I’m just using “more than 100,” which gets the point across.  It’s a lot.)

The shear abundance of political muscle makes for frequent surprises.  For example, I’m drawing on the floor, I look up, and, oh, hey — there goes Hugo Chavez.  Didn’t see that coming.  Back to drawing.

The speeches are largely political statements, as every country is given a turn to articulate some variation of “the science is clear, it’s time to act” and “our way is the best way to do it.”  The majority sound convincing, but everybody in the audience knows the real work is happening in the next room. That’ where the negotiating groups are trying to move beyond the politics and come back to the heads of state with something to sign.

If breakthroughs don’t start happening by this time tomorrow, there’s not going to be much for cartoon commentators to talk about beyond biking in the snow.