Two weeks of grueling COP15 debate … and then the big letdown

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — The final day at COP15 saw a mad dash for results at the highest levels of power, and a three-page document called the Copenhagen Accord.

By now, you’ve already read the headlines, so I’ll focus on the story leading up to the big announcement.  When I arrived at the Bella Center, about 10 a.m Friday, it was clear Obama was “on the ground.”  Helicopters buzzed overhead, police double-checked your credentials, and the security zones were non-negotiable.

I usually watched the daily plenary sessions in person, but this time not a single member of the print media was allowed inside, and I begrudgingly retreated to the media center. The president was about to speak, and I didn’t have time to argue.

When I entered the pressroom (a sprawling, football-field-size hall lined with laptop kiosks), the speech was just starting and the room fell silent.

The White House had announced a few days ago that the president would not bring any surprises to the talks, but even so, the mood in the room was expectant: Would the United States unveil another surprise to jump-start the talks? Would Obama inject some much-needed political muscle? Would this speech be a game-changer?

Short answer: Nope.

The language was direct, but it broke no new ground. (If the history books write about this conference, I bet they’ll identify Mr. Obama’s remarks as a moment of missed opportunity.)

After the president’s speech, the press began a long vigil that stretched into the evening. I spent my time wandering the halls, not even blinking when I passed Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke (that’s what this place does to you … your celebrity nerve gets worn out).

In the back-office corridors, I did come across several delegates circulating some type of draft language, but cartoonists need at least four hours to break a story, so I didn’t get pushy about it.  My time would come.

As the night wore on, the determination of the press corps began to crumble. As one photojournalist accurately predicted, “In a few hours, half these people are going to be asleep, and the other half are going to be taking pictures of them.”  He was right.

About 8 p.m., the story finally broke.  We learned Obama would brief the world in five minutes in the main press hall. Tripods flew over shoulders, women with microphones started shoving each other, and 10 minutes later we all somehow were in the press hall.

Too bad it wasn’t true.  Obama?  Here?  Now? Who told you that?

The false alarm actually blew off some steam. Back in front of the flat-screens, journalists gave up on the angry YouTubing and started buying wine by the bottle.

A few hours later, the story broke again, and this time it stuck. The White House was announcing a deal, and the president would elaborate shortly. When Mr. Obama finally took the stage, about 11 p.m., the world was already digesting the now-famous Copenhagen Accord, and a lot of the activists outside the Bella Center were not pleased.

The president wasted no time rolling out the anticipated “important first step” language, and his argument may have some merit.

However, after two weeks of grueling debate, the last word on this conference should go to one of the young people who are going to have to live with the world this Accord creates (or, more accurately, the world this Accord doesn’t prevent from being created).

Danielle, a youth delegate from the Midwest, simply tweeted, “Accord totally stinks.”

Clearly, there’s work still to be done.

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