"I can promise you a first class ticket to Heaven, but don't use it straight away"
That was Archbishop Tutu speaking earlier this morning making a plea for action on behalf of the most vulnerable countries that are being affected by climate change. He and Mary Robinson bookended an emotional session where we heard from citizens of Uganda, Bangladesh, Peru and Tuvalu discussing the challenges facing their countries.
Of course countries like Bangladesh have always had natural disasters that claimed lives, but climate change can increase storm surges in the Bay of Bengal that can swamp low-lying areas and kill tens of thousands. Low-lying nations like Tuvalu face increasing salinisation of farmland from storms and rising ocean levels. The guy with the hat on in the picture is Cayetano Huanca, a farmer from Peru. His village is prone to water shortages and hunger due to melting glacier. Mary Robinson pointed out that "300,000 died from the effects of climate last year."
They were speaking at an event hosted by Oxfam billed as the world's first international climate hearing at COP15 the United Nations Climate Change Conference here in Copenhagen. Thankfully I missed the eight hour queues in the freezing cold yesterday and got in early enough to catch the Oxfam hosted meeting.
I went on from there to a discussion of family planning and climate change, and met delegates from Ethiopia, the Maldives, Croatia and New Zealand. There was broad agreement that access to reliable family planning methods was the key to lifting many out of poverty.
After lunch I went on to a discussion on the 'Transition to a Green Growth Economy'. The panel included the Danish Minister of Economics and Business Affairs Lene Espersen, Nils Smedegaard Andersen from Maersk and Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist. Thomas is trying to persuade Americans that green isn't a 'sissy' topic, and he appears to be succeeding. He said "I don't want it to be all about taxation and regulation, I want to encourage the engineers and innovators who'll help us tackle all of this."
There's 192 countries represented here this week, and the negociation gradually shifts from civil servants and scientists to the political players in this second week of the conference. I suspect the Copenhagen Conference won't save the world, but it will help focus attention on the necessity and the opportunities for change. From my perspective its an opportunity to explore the key issues and hear about the approaches that other countries are applying to the challenge.