Political theater of an entirely different kind

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COPENHAGEN – Location and timing – that's all that matters in the end, and the folks at Climate Action Network had the market cornered Tuesday.

Six o'clock at the end of a long second day here at the Bella Center and delegates, activists, press and observers were starting to file out. The exodus came to a halt just short of the exit, where the CAN folks were presenting – with near-Oscar-style glitz – their Fossil of the Day Award.

The crowd swelled, overflowed, ultimately came to a complete halt – storm run-off hitting a clogged street drain. The mass soon dwarfed the audience suffering through the far more august – and deadly dull – plenary session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Assistance, happening simultaneously across the cavernous convention center.

Cell phones and digital cameras were raised. Necks craned. The CAN folks, dressed in tuxedo, dinner gown and – inexplicably – a mermaid suit, had a captive audience, and the show was on.

Out came a cello. Song and dance numbers followed. A call-and-response to get the crowd worked up, a drum roll, countdown, then fake acceptance speeches. Activist theater on a high level.

Other campaigns situated nearby but completely eclipsed by the hullabaloo could only smile grimly.

CAN's mock award goes daily to the country or countries that campaigners feel are doing the most to obstruct progress in the global climate talks. Ukraine walked away with top honors for what CAN described as the "worst emissions reduction target in the world" – a 20 percent chop from 1990 levels. In reality, CAN said, that's a 75 percent increase from current levels, given the drop-off in industrial production following the Soviet collapse.

"In the negotiations, people are starved for a little bit of drama," said one of the emcees, Katharine Trajan of Canada. "Plus you get a bite-sized bit of information about what happened during the talks today."

In many ways the best theater – and the human side to climate change – is found a half-hour's bus ride from the sterile, tightly controlled Bella Center.

At the center of Copenhagen, in and around a slightly down-at-the-heels swim center, is the KlimaForum – the people's climate forum. It's a all-admitted, global civil society counterpart to the official United Nation's conference.

And it has a distinctly different vibe.

Here the dress is a bit rougher. The laptops have more stickers. The food is far more exciting – spicy South American dishes instead of drab ham sandwiches.

The content was quite different. A pounding techno beat throbbed from one of the theater rooms, while scattered fliers promoted a one-day workshop, "Awakening the Dreamer" (promising a "profound inquiry into how we might realize a bold vision").

Andreas Molgaard and Eriko Matsumura of London's Extreme Design Lab had tacked a dozen black pillows to the wall. On each was artwork from a British schoolchild aged 12-15 picturing a worst-case scenario for the future.

"It was amazing to tick the box that said design could be art of the debate," Molgaard said.

The KlimaForum's mission is quite similar to goal at the UN's Bella Center: Identify solutions that accommodate all people.

But with the world's attention focused across town, is anyone noticing?

"I haven't been able to engage directly with industry decision-makers," Molgaard said. "But hopefully it's the right time and place."

The KlimaForum continues at Copenhagen's DGI-Byen center through Dec. 18.

Dispatches from Copenhagen is supported by the World Bank Trust Fund for Communications for Climate Change and the Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea of the Government of Italy

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