Behind the smart suits, tinted windows, and Swiss fountain pens of COP15 there are delegates from poorer countries who struggle to attend the conference and struggle to have a voice amongst the well-polished rhetoric of the E.U. and American delegations. One such country is Sierra Leone.
The state has never been able to afford to send a delegate to climate chance conferences. They are part of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group representing the 49 poorest countries in the world. They rank 180th (out of 182) on the human development index and have a big deforestation problem. The seven delegates going to COP15 are funded by the UNDP and E.U. This funding covers the flight and a per diem allowance of $200. Doesn’t sound like much? One day is the same as a delegates’ monthly salary.
The extent to which $200 disadvantages Sierra Leonean delegates becomes apparent when you analyse the cost of ‘doing’ COP15:
Food: Government officials eat at the Bella Vista restaurant in the Bella Centre, which costs $100. But there is a sandwich stall in the NGO section.
Meeting rooms: The smallest comes in at $14220 (the delegations entire budget) for 10 days. Even if they got one for free, catering costs $162 per person per day.
“At the Barcelona convention it was impossible,” says delegate Dr. Lansana Nyalley. “We had nobody to go to the informal meetings where the decisions taken. America had people in every meeting. They had even rented an office for their team. The two of us were lucky to chat over our lunch.” Dr. Lansana is head of the Meteorological society, whose radar was used for target practice during the civil war. They have not yet raised the money to repair it.
COP15 represents a huge possibility for change. However the current imbalance in preparation and attendance is a stumbling block which desperately needs to be overcome. As America’s delegates unwind in their hotel gym, Dr. Lansana will get on the bus and cross the border into Sweden to his hostel. His Sierra Leonean colleagues will be scattered around Copenhagen, comparing notes by text message and phone calls. In 12 days, he will spend the equivalent of his yearly salary on sandwiches and sleeping. The least he can hope for is an agreement at the end of it.
A longer version of this article can be found here.