Climate chief channels Truman, but …

COPENHAGEN On Monday, long chaotic lines kept several thousand accredited conference attendees – some standing in the freezing cold for up to 11 hours — from being allowed to register for the United Nations climate change meeting. “Who’s to blame? Me,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations climate change office. “Part of the problem that we’re facing here is that you can’t fit size 12 feet into size 6 shoes.”

At a press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked de Boer and Connie Hegegaard, the climate conference’s president, to explain the Monday logistics fiasco. And de Boer offered a succinct and classic the-buck-stops-here acceptance of responsibility. The late President Harry Truman could not have said it better.

IT’S MY FAULT… UN climate chief Yvo de Boer takes blame for Monday’s logistics fiasco. J. Raloff

He explained that although 46,000 individuals applied to attend the meeting, Copenhagen’s convention center can accommodate no more than 15,000 without violating the fire code. The UN could have cut off accreditations a month or more ago when requests to attend hit the 15,000 mark, he acknowledged. But the meeting’s organizers knew that everybody wouldn’t want to be here on every day. So overbooking the conference would allow near-capacity attendance every day.

Fine for the organizers. But what about locked out attendees? Denmark is an expensive venue. The sales tax alone is 25 percent. Flying here and staying in hotels to await the possibility that one might get in was hardly fair to cash-strapped nonprofit and government groups, of which there are probably thousands here for the meeting.

And what about the carbon footprint of the overbooked hordes?

Indeed, here’s an especially egregious example. I stood in line yesterday with a London-based TV reporter who, like me, had stood in line all day Monday unsuccessfully awaiting entrance. Late morning, on Monday, this guy phoned his boss to point out it that it was looking increasingly unlikely that he’d get in to register. His television station’s solution: Send a colleague who had covered the meeting last week (and who therefore already possessed an admission badge) back to Copenhagen. The backup was able to return from London to the convention center by 4 p.m. – and wave to his colleague, still standing in line. (The good news: Seventeen hours later, the locked out reporter gained admittance, himself, to the convention.)

Tell me, Yvo, how did that – or any of Monday’s mess – benefit the climate, which is, of course, your prime directive?

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the editor of Science News for Students, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer.

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