The largest and most important United Nations climate change conference in history opened on Monday with video clips of children from around the globe urging delegates to help them grow up without facing catastrophic warming.
On the sidelines, climate activists competed for attention to their campaigns on deforestation, clean energy and low-carbon growth.
Mohamad Shinaz, an activist from the Maldives, plunged feet-first into a tank with nearly 750 litres of frigid water to illustrate what rising sea levels were doing to his island nation. “I want people to know that this is happening,” Shinaz said as the water reached up to his chest. “We have to stop global warming.”
Leah Wickham, a 24-year-old from Fiji, broke down in tears as she handed a petition from 10 million people asking the negotiators at Copenhagen to come up with a deal to save islands like hers. “I’m on the front lines of climate change,” she said.
“Fifty years from now, my children will be raising their own families. It is my hope that they will still be able to call our beautiful islands home,” said Wickham, a student at the University of the South Pacific.
Wickham issued her appeal to the conference’s president, Connie Hedegaard, and Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“I am relying on the decisionmakers to sign a deal that will mean that my children inherit a safe world,” a visibly emotional Wickham said.
“All the hopes and dreams of my generation rest on Copenhagen.”
The first week of the conference will focus on refining the complex text of a draft treaty.
But major decisions will await the arrival next week of environment ministers and the heads of state in the final days of the conference, which ends on December 18. Denmark’s prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said 110 heads of state and government will attend the final days of the meet.