TCS Daily


By Craig Winneker - December 10, 2003 12:00 AM

MILAN, Italy -- I was starting to wonder why I'd come to the COP-9 conference. It didn't threaten to be very newsy, and just about everyone now realizes that the Kyoto Protocol, the reason for these regular gatherings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is deader than a gathering of Iowans for Al Sharpton. Other than the rather seductive allure of Milan's shopping district, there wasn't much to recommend the journey here.


Then I picked up a press release on "Gender and Climate." Now here was something worth writing home about.


"Simply stating that both men and women are affected by climate change does not bring out the fact that women in many cases are more vulnerable, and also less involved in the technological changes proposed to mitigate climate change," this incredible statement read. "Climate change is not a gender neutral process and this needs to be explicitly recognized and dealt with."


Sounds like the start of a bad Master's thesis. Actually, there's probably at least a good high-school term paper to be written on the subject of how governments and NGOs have turned international gatherings of this sort into a real cottage industry. They exist to do nothing more than perpetuate themselves. And everyone is on hand to play his part, from delegates to journalists to lobbyists to activists to police to the guy selling hotdogs on the corner.


The truth is these kinds of meetings, whether they be G8 Summits, European Councils, or UN jamborees, have become dog-and-pony shows without even the dogs or ponies going for them. American political conventions have also ceased to be newsworthy or exciting, but at least they still hold some interest for the media, who can use them to size up the parties' messages in advance of the fall election campaign.


But here in Milan it has become even more painfully clear just how irrelevant these meetings have become, especially considering the subject being discussed.


Need more proof? How about the fashion show organized by the WWF, Greenpeace and the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, featuring a new "Save Our Climate" symbol. The logo is a globe with a burning candle wick -- I checked later in the afternoon at Dolce & Gabbana and they don't feel threatened.


Such silliness is not new at these events, of course. They merely show how difficult it is to find anything, in the absence of news, to keep the media interested. I remember covering last June's EU summit near Thessaloniki, Greece -- if being sequestered in a giant pre-fabricated structure several thousand meters away from where actual events are occurring can be called "covering."


At one point, reporters in the press center had gathered around TV monitors to watch police put down a (briefly) violent anti-globalization protest. Among them were several TV technicians aiming their video cameras at... the TV. What they were recording would have been interesting if it hadn't become so predictable: a small group of rock-throwing, bandanna-wearing, red-flag-carrying agitators provoking riot-suited police into launching tear gas canisters. The inevitable bum rush against a barricade, followed by more puffs of eye-searing smoke.


Yawn. To use the unfortunate syntax of many of its typical participants, the anti-globalization protest is so, like, 1999. The TV cameras, even if they had been able to leave the press center to cover this demonstration, probably wouldn't have anyway. It was a surreal scene, but only in the way that surrealism can sometimes be nothing more than a combination of the genuinely absurd and the utterly boring.


Which brings me back to Milan (the protesters seem to have taken a pass) and the pressing issue of gender and climate. Rest assured, action will be taken. According to the press release, this week in Milan five "subgroups" were set up to deal with the various themes and concerns. "The subgroups will meet during the remaining period of COP9 to plan their inputs to COP10."


COP 10? Count me out.


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