Copenhagen, December 9–There’s so much going on at the international climate change meeting (COP15) that it’s hard to know where to start. Part of the confusion is the sheer number of meetings: everything is happening everywhere, all at once. Just figuring out the day’s schedule seems to take at least three different packets, each about 10 pages long, hundreds of TV screens projecting the daily schedule of events, and a detailed map. Even if you have the map, asking a COP staff member is usually the only way to actually find a room.

Besides the official meetings, caucuses, and press briefings, there are hundreds of other “side events” going on all the time, from protesters dressed as aliens asking to be beamed up to a future world without CO2, to groups of young people singing “Give Peace a Chance” (“all we are saying, is no greenhouse gas”). The country delegations also put on their own presentations throughout the day, like the U.S. Department of Transportation talking about the future of public transportation, or Brazil talking about deforestation. I’m sure those presentations would be really interesting, if I could ever get there– I usually get lost on the way, or distracted, or stopped by security because I’ve accidentally walked into some VIP-only entrance. I guess this is what everyone meant when they said that COPs tend to be chaotic.

The rest of the confusion stems from the fact that a lot goes on behind the scenes. You feel like you’re there, in the midst of it all, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a new paper or proposition has emerged. Where did it come from? How could you miss something as big as that? Just as you start kicking yourself for not having paid enough attention, you realize that everyone is hearing about it the same way you are- through word of mouth, overhearing snatches of a conversation or reading the newspaper. That’s because so many meetings are closed to press and observer organizations, like WEDO. It can be frustrating, but it also adds an element of suspense, which makes the conference even more exciting.

WEDO and the Global Gender Climate Alliance (GGCA) mix roles as observers and activists at this meeting. Part of the job of an observer organization is to do just that– observe, watch, listen to whatever meetings they can. These include the huge, official meetings where all the countries come together and discuss the text (or, more accurately, they discuss what they should be discussing, or what they’ll discuss at their next discussion, or how they’ll run the discussions). WEDO members also go to presentations of other observer organizations, press briefings, and country meetings. This observer role is really important– you have to know what’s going on before you can do anything about it. And just knowing what’s going on is harder than it sounds.

But the next step, of course, is the activism side– meeting and strategizing about who WEDO should talk to, and what they should say. It’s through this activism that WEDO is trying to ensure that women’s interests and voices are taken into account in the outcome of this COP 15.

Madeleine Rubenstein is a senior at Barnard College in New York City and works with the Sustainable Development program.

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