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End Game time: more security, intense pressure, negotiation maneuvers and a crucial 48 hours

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — The Bella Center may have emptied for the moment, but the pressure remains intense.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — We experienced something new Tuesday at the Bella Center — a genuine shift in the atmosphere of the proceedings.

The cause: entrance restrictions.

In preparation for the arrival of more than 130 heads of state, the Danish authorities have severely reduced the number of non-government organization representatives allowed inside the building. Of the 14,000 individuals granted observer status, only 1,000 were given special access cards for today’s proceedings. Today, the number will be even lower.

So far, my press pass has proven inviolate, and I’m usually in the building before 10 a.m. My toes are frozen from standing in line for 30 minutes, but I’m in.

And that’s when the mood changes. Because there are essentially 13,000 fewer young people wandering the halls, the Bella Center feels downright empty, and where there used to be nice Danish girls pointing to the bathrooms, there are now metal detectors and velvet ropes … not yet in operation, but “coming soon.”

All this is happening because the COP15 end game is about to start, and a crescendo is beginning to build. Not to mention star power. In five minutes of random convention walking, I crossed paths with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bjorn Lomborg (author of the “The Skeptical Environmentalist”) and Thomas Friedman (who has now heard a blathering earful about MinnPost).

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Regarding the actual work: The building may have emptied, but the pressure remains intense. On Monday, India publicly announced that a deal had to be reached by the end of Tuesday if COP15 is going to result in any substantive outcome, and that didn’t leave a lot of time to sort out the remaining differences between the parties.

On top of all this, word on the unaccredited street is that protesters are planning to storm the gates sometime Wednesday morning, and as exciting as that may be to watch, I’m more worried about my commute.

They’ve already shut down the closest metro station, and if the protesters do try something, I’m guessing the Danish authorities will err on the side of safety. In short, if the tear gas starts flying, there’s a good chance the press will be kept out … and it’s way too cold to draw outside.

My summary: Things are moving in the negotiation chambers, but the added external tensions could change the dynamics at just the wrong time. The next 48 hours will be definitive. (And if you read this, Mr. Friedman, please feel free to post a comment … I can use all the help making sense of this thing as I can get.)