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The Communication Circus Inside the Bella Center
by Sara Peach

Negotiators are working feverishly at the Bella Center in Copenhagen to work out a new global treaty on climate change. But the real action here is in the areas just outside the negotiation rooms, where young activists are allowed to hold demonstrations. The activists organize media stunts almost constantly, giving the space a circus-like atmosphere. I've seen youth-led flash mobs, space aliens looking for climate leaders and a "magician" demonstrating how offsets can make emissions vanish. Each day at 6 p.m., there is a "Fossil of the Day" awards ceremony for the countries that are seen to be holding up progress.

To get a flavor of the demonstrations, watch this brief video filmed at the Bella Center last week. Climate activists dressed as trees to protest what they said was a plan by some European countries to use double accounting to evade carbon dioxide reductions.

The demonstrations rarely interrupt the negotiations and appear to be largely invisible to the delegates. Instead, the activists are competing for the attention of the thousands of journalists circulating through the center. Before an event, they rehearse talking points, designate spokespeople and arrange their props to ensure the best pictures.

Yet to be seen is whether all of the media attention will change the outcome of the conference.

Also unanswered is this: What was it like getting the tree costumes through security?

Sara Peach is reporting from Copenhagen thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Committee on Crisis Reporting.

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December 14, 2009