No Christmas Trees at Global Warming Conference -- And Other Copenhagen Snippets

By Patrick Goodenough | December 7, 2009 | 4:45 AM EST

Activists hold banners next to an ice statue of the city's famed mermaid, left, on Monday Dec. 7, 2009, the opening day of the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

( – As delegates from 192 countries kick off the United Nations global climate gathering in Copenhagen on Monday, offers some angles that are unlikely to make mainstream media headlines.
‘U.N. neutrality’
The Danish capital’s town hall square may be famous for its large Christmas tree, and the festive season may be approaching, but Christmas trees will not be used to decorate the climate conference venue.
The Danish government attributes this to the fact that, when a country hosts a U.N. conference, the setting becomes “U.N. territory.”
And although many Christians would argue that Christmas trees have more to do with commercialism than the birth of Jesus, as far as the U.N. is concerned, because of the association with a religious holiday, the trees cannot adorn a U.N. event.
“We have to remember that this is a U.N. conference and, as the centere then becomes U.N. territory, there can be no Christmas trees in the decor, because the U.N. wishes to maintain neutrality,” the Copenhagen Post quoted Svend Olling of the Danish foreign ministry as saying.
The view that the hosts of a U.N. event must observe U.N. norms also lies behind Denmark’s decision to invite some of the world’s most controversial politicians.
They include the leaders of Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma, who are ordinarily prohibited by European Union law from visiting E.U. soil.
Dying to be green
While not directly related to the climate conference, a couple of Danish dioceses are getting into the spirit of things by looking for ways to cut down on carbon emissions associated with funerals.

A globe is displayed in a subway station in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Sunday Dec. 6, 2009, one day before the climate summit opened. (AP Photo)

Specifically, the concern is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) apparently released into the atmosphere when a body is cremated. In a bid to tackle the problem, the Politiken newspaper reports that the dioceses on Denmark’s biggest island have decided to consolidate cremations – replacing seven small facilities with one large one.
The paper quoted Torben Hjul Andersen, the dean of the Slagelse diocese, as saying that using a five-oven communal crematorium will reduce CO2 emissions by half.
One difficulty caused by the change, however, is that some bodies will now have to be transported long distances to reach the sole crematorium. To solve this problem, organizers propose transporting the corpses by bus rather than hearse.
The newspaper reports that the proposals are not being universally welcomed.
“I wouldn’t be happy to let my 93-year-old mother be driven off to the crematorium with three other coffins,” local vicar Poul Joachim Stender was quoted as saying. “It may be irrational, but as a relative, you are very vulnerable and aware of the smallest things. The way you treat your dead is also the way you treat the living.”
The global editorial
With six reporters assigned to the topic and a dedicated environmental Web site, Britain’s Guardian has drunk deeper from the global warming well than most.
But the paper announced a fresh coup Monday, with the news that papers in 45 countries had agreed to publish – all on the same day, in 20 different languages, and in most cases on their front pages – the very same editorial imploring the Copenhagen climate summiteers to act to save the planet.

The Guardian’s front page on Monday, December 7, 2009, is taken up by the global editorial on the Copenhagen climate conference (Photo: The Guardian)

The editorial, drafted by Guardian editors in consultation with other participating papers, does not mince words when it comes to questioning the validity of the anthropological global warming argument.
“In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have left to limit the damage,” it reads.
“The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw a calamity coming but did not avert it.”
Participants in the unusual editorial exercise included 16 papers in Asia, 20 in Europe, 11 from Africa, and nine from the Americas – although only one in the U.S., the Miami Herald.
In an article explaining how the project came about, deputy editor Ian Katz explained that while all participants were asked to run the editorial in its entirety, a sentence about the recent “Climategate” episode had been suggested as an “optional” addition, as it had been too late to secure the agreement of all the papers.
The sentence reads, “The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.”
Katz noted that not all papers approached had agreed to run the editorial. Japan’s mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun “explained that convention precluded them from signing up to a common editorial but promised supportive coverage.”
In Australia, sister papers Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of Melbourne “dropped out of the project after climate change convulsed Australian politics, demanding, they felt, a more localized editorial position.”
(Australia’s opposition party last week dumped its leader for a new one significantly more skeptical on climate change issues, and lawmakers defeated government legislation setting up a CO2 emissions trading scheme.)
Leading papers in the United States had not agreed to run the global editorial, Katz said.
“A number of major U.S. titles evinced support for the project, even conceding that they agreed with everything in the editorial, but stopped short of signing up, leaving the admirably independent-minded Miami Herald as the sole representative of the world's second biggest polluter.”
Katz added that one U.S. paper, which he did not identify, had responded to the approach by saying, “This is an outrageous attempt to orchestrate media pressure. Go to hell.”
Some Guardian readers questioned the wisdom of the initiative.

President Obama meets Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the White House to discuss issues including climate change on November 30, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“I’d have thought the Guardian team learnt its lesson having got its fingers burnt in 2004 when it encouraged its readers to write to random Americans pleading with them to depose George Bush at the election,” wrote one. “The hubris garnered Bush more votes by some pundits’ reckoning.”
Chasing Obama
President Obama’s decision to visit Copenhagen during the early days of the two-week event – while in the region to collect his Nobel Peace Prize – rather than at the climax, when more than 70 other world leaders would be there, drew widespread criticism. So the White House shifted, and on Friday said the president would delay his visit by a week.
The rescheduling caused a headache in Australia, whose Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is viewed as something of a leader in global climate diplomacy, despite his difficulty in getting lawmakers at home to play ball.
Rudd – who came to office in 2007 promising a radical shift in climate policy and as his first official act moved to ratify the Kyoto Protocol – was not planning to attend the conference, unless Obama decided to do so
Then, after it was announced Obama would visit Copenhagen it the early days of the meeting, the Australian reported last week that Rudd was considering flying to Denmark so he could be there at the same time as the American president. The paper cited sources as saying the Royal Australian Air Force was on standby for a “snap trip.”
After the White House announced Obama’s new schedule, however, the paper reported Monday that Rudd had dropped the plan, and would now attend the high-level late stages of the conference instead.
“Kevin Rudd’s chasing of Barack Obama has become truly farcical,” Australian blogger Andrew Bolt wrote Monday. The prime minister, he said, was “the world’s greatest autograph hunter.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow