Blog Post

Notes From Copenhagen: A Bit of Warmth Amid the Cold

COPENHAGEN — Danish people have a unique feeling called “hygge,” which is commonly described as warmth or coziness. It can often be found indoors, when the conversation flows and warm (or alcoholic) beverages are involved, and it’s a way to cheer up and connect with others in the long, cold dark winters of Denmark (and no, it’s not like hyphy).

I experienced a bit of hygge minutes after finally sitting down in the well-lit and warm Bella media center here, on the night before the United Nations Climate Change Conference begins Monday.

It’s hard not to feel some sense of warmth and companionship after waiting in hour-long lines in Copenhagen’s freezing cold weather (6 degrees C, a little above zero) to get a badge to attend the summit.

The organizers seriously overbooked — the venue can hold 15,000, but the organizers say nearly 34,000 have requested to attend. The organizers have started sending out emails about “capacity constraints,” and asking NGO delegates to only enter the building on “a quota system,” during peak times. There were just a small handful of security checkers, registration officials and photographers (to take our mug shots for our badges) for the thousands of people expected to check in the night before. The whole area and the closest train line shut down for a while, as well, due to a “suspicious bag that was left unattended. Talk about chaos.

The chaos of the media center

But now I’m inside the building (writing from the media center), with badge in tow, and warmed by the presence of so many international and eager attendees hanging out, who’ve arrived to witness what Achim Steiner, the head of the United Nations Environment Program, called “perhaps the largest [event] of its kind on the environment,” in an interview with The New York Times this weekend. Steiner arrived on Saturday in Copenhagen on the “Climate Express,” a special low-carbon (compared with flying) train service that a variety of European policy-makers and environmental groups rode from Brussels to Copenhagen.

I myself arrived Saturday afternoon and took the un-climate friendly approach of taking the 12-plus hour flight from San Francisco (via Frankfurt). While I debated watching the events live online from the GigaOM office in downtown San Francisco (which would have been a lot better for my carbon footprint) I thought the event was just too important to skip. It will be interesting in itself to see how the city of Copenhagen deals with all of the travel logistics and overcrowding that the conference is bringing — the city only has about 1 million people in it, so tens of thousand of official attendees, plus all the unofficial attendees (protesters, non-approved NGOs and press) will be a massive population swell.

The event will also be a testament to how Copenhagen and Denmark’s world-famous sustainable transportation resources hold up under the attendee crunch. The city, whose residents mostly bike and take public transportation to work and which has sky-high taxes on cars making them unbearably expensive, will be maxing out the trains and the roads during peak times. The car traffic on the highway from the airport to the city was jammed for about 45 minutes when I landed, causing my driver (and longtime friend and Copenhagen resident) to be aghast.

When the people crunch isn’t pushing resources to the limit, Copenhagen and Denmark are models of an advanced sustainable society that works because of the residents’ small, well-off and homogenous makeup. The residents pay very high taxes, but many public services are free and the arts and academics are well-supported. It’s the kind of model demographics where a company like electric vehicle infrastructure company Better Place could — and plans to — try out its EV charging and battery swap stations with local utility Dong Energy.

Clean technology startups like Better Place will be attending the events in droves over the next two weeks in hopes that their presence will show how important the international decisions and agreements are to their industry. While entrepreneurs won’t necessarily be able to change the outcome of the talks, their presence is important for helping create a high level of public awareness about the climate crisis and the green economy. The agreements at the event will help determine how big or small their markets will be, how long until those markets pick up, and how to determine the price on carbon, which is an integral key to many greentech firms.

The conference itself is already giving its own feeling of hygge. At a press conference on Sunday afternoon UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said, “Never in 17 years of climate negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together,” and that while “there will be more steps on the road to a safe climate future, Copenhagen is already a turning point in the international response to climate change.” And just before the weekend President Obama decided to switch his agenda from attending the talks on Dec. 9 to attending the summit over the last couple of days when the rest of the heads of state will attend. It’s a move that shows he and the U.S. are serious about the negotiations.

Still ahead, many like the U.N.’s Steiner hope that both the U.S. and China will make additional (and more aggressive) emissions cuts. And expect hard negotiations over technology transfer (an issue at the heart of silicon valley) and financial commitments from the richest nations to support the poorest nations’ mitigation and adaptation.

When the conference officially opens Monday morning, likely my initial feeling of hygge here in the Bella Center will quickly fade as the reality of the difficulty of the negotiation process sets in. But there are two whole weeks of hope here for the attendees and delegates to help work on getting that feeling back.

Photo credits: Images 1 and 2 I shot with my camera in Copenhagen — the first is Tivoli gardens at night, and the second is the big ‘ol lines at the registration. Image 3 is courtesy of ollily’s photostream on Flickr Creative Commons and Image 4 is courtesy of Kakadu on Flickr Creative Commons.

24 Responses to “Notes From Copenhagen: A Bit of Warmth Amid the Cold”

  1. Quaxiothe

    Hmm someone should have better informed ms. Fehrenbacher about her whereabouts in CPh as the top picture is the Palads cinema and eye of copenhagen and Tivoli is around the block 200 m. away g

  2. Quaxiothe

    Hmm someone should have better informed ms. Fehrebacher about her whereabouts in CPh as the top picture is the Palads cinema and eye of copenhagen and Tivoli is around the block 200 m. away g

    • Quaxiothe

      All of copenhagen has district heating which in part uses the bi-product heat from the recycle garbage plants to heat the system. Don’t know the exact number but they’re pretty proud of it :-)
      At the conference the have also put up a windmill creating some of the power for the event

  3. I think this article in the New York Times sums up my perspective on the “leaked emails issue”: “In recent days, an array of scientists and policy makers have said that nothing so far disclosed — the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data — undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science.”

    • Don’t be lazy – hiding behind a NYT article- think for yourself, do some journalistic footwork, otherwise your credibility will soon fall below zero.

      Here’s is some information for starters:

      These are link taking from

      Climate Gate
      Katherine Goldstein (KGeee) on Twitter
      begley_237-covermedium.jpg (JPEG Image, 237×237 pixels)
      Dave Hampton – The Carbon Coach
      BBC News – Climate e-mail hack ‘will impact on Copenhagen summit’
      UK’s Carbon reduction commitment legislation – the shape of things to come globally! — GreenMonk: the blog
      We-Don’t-Want-To-Talk-About-It-Gate – Reason Magazine
      Climate change scepticism | Environment | – ‘Fudge Factor’: UK Programmer Explains Problems With CRU Climate Data Software
      NASA climate expert hopes Copenhagen summit fails – Yahoo! News
      Researcher quits over science agency interference : Nature News
      Gordon Brown: climate-change sceptics are ‘flat-earthers’ – Telegraph
      Moving the climate change story from coping to hoping – The Globe and Mail
      Climate email mess hits Australia
      Free sex for COP15 Participants
      Instapundit » Blog Archive » OOPS: Former NASA climate scientist pleads guilty to contract fraud. “A former top climate scienti…
      Former NASA climate scientist pleads guilty to contract fraud | Washington Examiner
      YouTube – Fox News – Climategate Reaches NASA
      Lawrence Solomon: Enron’s other secret – FP Comment
      Met Office to re-examine 160 years of climate data – Times Online
      Climate email mess hits Australia
      YouTube – The Sad Slide of Kieth Obermann – calls ClimateGate a “made up” Fox News Story
      East Anglia Confirmed Emails from the Climate Research Unit – Searchable
      Arnold Schwarzenegger unveils dramatic climate change map which shows flooded San Francisco of the future | Mail Online
      Gore’s mountain of misinformation | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

  4. Research Climategate!!! All this is BS and its proven by the same people trying to sell us to slavery. To take from any tax payer of one country to give to another nation for little or no reason other then to try to run their country is another form of theft or slavery. Im tired of paying for all the feel good things our politicians get. Even the speaker of the house Nancy is spending thousands of dollars on flowers to funerals paid for by tax payers. If she wants to send a grave flowers she can pay for it herself like the rest of us. Im tired of US spending money borrowied from everyone else to give back to everyone else. I dont get it. Are we the great big ponzy scam and everyone elses credit card? Im so tired of politicians coming up with new ideas to tax the living crap out of us. AND now they want to control everything we do through a carbon tax, a tax on breathing or life. Dont worry they are doing this to save the planet and Us from ourselves. Sorry if I dont have any confidence in these supposed leaders who Id rather get out of my way then tell me what to do every step of the way.

  5. Another welll informed skeptic

    According to the numbers I’ve seen, all of mankind is responsible for 0.28% of the so-called greenhouse effect if water vapor is taken into account. Atmospheric water vapor controls 95% of the greenhouse effect. Will somebody please explain to me how tinkering at the margins of 0.28% is going to control the climate of the Earth. Are they joking? This is absurd on its face. These people are either delusional or they are demagogues hell bent on using fear and misinformation to further their ideology. I think it’s probably both. History abounds with demagogues using fear and misinformation to increase their power but the scale and scope of this episode is one for the books!

  6. Well informed skeptic

    For this article not to include any reference to the scandal involving the leaked e-mails and computer code from the CRU negatively reflects on the credibility of the writer. These e-mails and code show how the so-called scientific consensus is fake and manipulated. The Copenhagen conference is based on a fraud and is nothing more than an elaborate exercise in fiction. If the attendees and so-called journalists were honest and really interestd in the truth they would have turned the conference into an apology session and re-framed the debate to reflect the lies and fabrication of the alarmist media and “scientists”. To think we are possible going to gut the western economies and throw millions out of work based on a faked and exaggerated theory is a travesty. Your “reporting” should reflect this reality no your own personal green fantasy.

    • Uninformed hypocrite is more accurate description.

      Lots of hot air. No peer-reviewed science. But, then, over several years of discussion on climate change leading to my own agreement with the overwhelming body of science – once I get away from scientists, there only are ideologues to confront.

      • go kill yourself? be an example for all the other dupes and useful idiots – you go first. certainly if you feel others should do so to save the planet, you’ll have no problem taking one for planet. oh sorry, I forgot only you leftist fools and tools know what’s best for all the
        rest of us. THE ARROGANCE, STUPIDITY, AND CONTEMPT you display for others’ opinions is beyond description. The great defenders of dissent from the 60’s and 70’s – where are you now? unless you’ve reserved yourself a place at the table by selling your soul, you’ll be just as cold and
        starving as the rest of us when global marxism takes control. Oh! you’re one of them; silly me – what was I thinking?!