Monday, November 11, 2013—Opening Day

Conference in a Stadium—Hosting a climate conference, with more than 10,000 expected participants, usually calls for some intriguing planning.  And here in Warsaw, the Conference itself is literally taking part on the playing field, or pitch, as some call it.  Perhaps to signify that it is a level playing field.  The big tent lies within the domed stadium and accommodates all the meeting rooms.

Typhoon Haiyan—There was a three-minute moment of silence for the victims of the Typhoon that swept across the Philippines during the morning session.  Virtually every delegation that spoke referred to the storm, noting that climate change appeared to be impacting the intensity of extreme weather. The Philippines lead negotiator, Yeb Sano, told the COP, “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”  On a personal level, he announced that he would refrain from eating “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

COP19 attendees gather as conference gets underway.

Attendees gather as the COP19 Conference in Warsaw commences.

Another Poland—Host governments often like to start a COP with a video showing their commitment to action on climate change.  Poland is no different, but they used an interesting device to tell the story that “We care.”  It starts with a school room in Poland where the teacher tells her class about “another Poland,” a community on the island of Kiritimati, in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.  The teacher asks the students to draw pictures of Poland, in Europe, to share with the children in school in Kiribati. As the film moves to the Pacific, the children there speak about rising sea levels and beach erosion, fewer fish in the ocean, fewer coconuts, and the possibility of having to move to another island.  Effective learning—and caring—takes place.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres speaks at the opening of COP19 in Warsaw.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres speaks at the opening of COP19 in Warsaw.

Opening day contrasts— There is always an effort to look at climate in a new way.  UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, urged participants to take a deep breath.  “Really take a deep breath.”  Then she told them that they were the first human beings to ever breathe air with “400 parts per million carbon dioxide” in it—referring to the unprecedented level of greenhouse gas concentrations that have now been reached.  The new COP President focused on distinct global contradictions.  While many people worry about recharging their mobile phones, there are still 1.3 billion people who lack access to energy.  And while some countries are pursuing space travel, there are still millions who lack clean cooking facilities.