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Bella of the Ball

December 9, 2009

For the uninitiated, a COP event can be intimidating. I’m telling you this because, until two days ago, I was one of those uninitiated. I’m not exactly a seasoned veteran yet, but I’ve learned a few things since the beginning of the week. I thought this short overview of the Bella Center (the conference facility where COP15 is being held) would offer some insight into goings-on here.

Check out a map of the Bella Center here and follow along…

First, note that the center itself is enormous. It holds approximately 15,000 people, which is about the size of Boston in 1776. Unfortunately, because 34,000 people have been credentialed (as delegated observers, parties, press, and so on) to attend COP15, the enormity of interest in the conference has created a logjam at the door. Some people I know have been turned away, even though they were initially on lists to gain entry. Rumors circulate that organizers will begin to ration participation even by those with badges, reducing the numbers permitted into the center. As this is the largest COP to date, I think it speaks to the swell of interest in climate issues.

Once inside the center, one finds a scene of organized chaos. It is, I think, a microcosm of environmental civil society.

There are the necessary Security Checks to keep out the riffraff, of course, but beyond security, one enters into a chamber of advocacy: the NGO and Side Event Rooms. (This is the green zone on your map.) Activist and advocacy organizations of all stripes pepper smallish stalls and installations, handing out pamphleture, putting on little schticks of theater, riling up interest in pet issues. It’s a sight to behold. There’s so much going on that I thought for a while that it was the main event. Not the case.

Move beyond the advocacy garden and one enters a long hallway. Here one encounters several sitting areas with computer stalls, one of many indoor cafes, and the Documentation Center. The documentation center is the beating heart of COP, insofar as it controls the flow of documents and schedules that everyone relies on to get from point A to point B. You can pick up your daily schedule of events at this desk. Paper spills over the counter in reams.

The hall then opens into a giant atrium. This is the Main Hall. Here again one finds rows and rows of tables and couches. (This is the grey zone on your map, with all of the forks and knives.) There are approximate six different cafes lining the sides of the atrium, there are side events and larger stages surrounding the sitting areas. Thousands of people — literally, thousands of people — bustle between one another, rubbing elbows and discussing all manner of topic.

Flanking both sides of the main hall are the two Plenary Halls (Tycho Brahe and Karen Blixen, in pink on your map). It is here, presumably, that the major agreements are discussed. Each of the plenary halls are approximately the size of a football field. The front of each hall is lined with a table at which diplomats and representatives sit. The rear of each hall is lined with booths in which translators sit. The fore-portion of the audience is reserved for representatives from UN nations, each designated by a nameplate bearing their country or organization. The middle portion of the audience is reserved for press. The rear portion of the audience is reserved for curious plebes, like me.

On all sides of the plenary halls are Conference Rooms, where some of the finer details of the agreements get hammered out. in today’s program, for instance, groups meeting include the African group, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Group of 77 and China, the Umbrella Group, the Environmental Integrity Group, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, the League of Arab States, and on and on. Sometimes these are closed sessions, requiring a ticket. Sometimes they are open. There  is also a Press Conference Room near the main plenary hall. My understanding is that this is where press conferences happen, since I am not a member of the press I cannot be certain.

Back into the atria near the plenary halls. Near both plenary halls there are more cafes, more couches, and in both cases, many multiple rows of desks, tables and computers for any and all to use. These computers serve as Communication Hubs for all participants to communicate with the outside world. At any time, there are hundreds of people sitting at these computers, typing away, just as I am now.

Back again into the main hall, one notices that tucked behind some of the cafes is the Press Room (in yellow). A press pass is required to enter this center. I assume it’s where journalists put on their lipstick and make their telephone calls, but since I don’t have a press pass, I can’t say for sure. They could well be slaughtering chickens and playing ping-pong.

Off of the end of the main hall one moves to the Delegation Offices. The delegation offices house phones, computers, desks, and cubicles for each of the various delegations. This is an enormous facility, with three separate chambers (A, B, and C) all partitioned into hundreds of tiny quarters. Some of the delegation offices also sponsor side events nearby.

All told, it’s a sight to behold. The people here are all deeply engrossed in whatever their particular disciplinary focus is. Discussions begin organically at the cafes, ideas are kicked around, and partnerships form.

Coming up? Who are the people in this neighborhood…

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