I decided to take some minutes away from the hectic running back and forth to attend sessions in the UN Conference of Climate Change (COP15), taking place in the Danish capital Copenhagen, to grab some lunch.
I stood in a long line and 20 minutes later had a tray of horribly tasting food (but filling) and went looking for a quiet table to sit down. I needed some peace before continuing on my active running back and forth for coverage.
But as I sat down, I noticed that the table next to me had a group of “important looking people” speaking Arabic. Never one to miss a chance for a good story, I put on my best smile and went over and introduced myself as an Egyptian. Several smiles, handshakes, and laughs later, I was sitting at the table with them.
It was all very pleasant. The table was varied. There were people from Lebanon, Tunisia, and one from Algeria (who was quick to make a football related joke of course when he learned from my accent I was Egyptian). I learned that they were here as representatives of the OPEC (organization of the petroleum exporting nations) delegation.
The OPEC delegation, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, is one of the biggest hurdles to negotiations since they risk billions of dollars in lost revenue if people adopt clean fuels rather than oil.
I kept as pleasant as possible before bringing up the reason I was there. I asked them if I can interview someone from OPEC regarding their position on the negotiations. Sadly, all smiles disappeared, all plates stopped cluttering, and all I got was a cold shrug that they were not authorized to speak to the media. When I pushed them for someone who IS authorized, they said that there was no one in the delegation authorized to do it.
So OPEC sent a huge delegation to the discussions, and, knowing there are more than 5,000 media representatives at COP15, did not send a single person authorized to speak to the media!
Less than 30 seconds later, everyone said they’d finished eating and left quickly. Suddenly, I was sitting at the table all alone. This is the type of transparency that OPEC, one of the major negotiating blocs, comes to the talks with. It is scary to think what goes on behind the closed doors of the negotiations – when they are supposed to be built on transparency!
At least I managed to finish up my meal in peace, as I originally intended.
(This story was originally published on the Egypt-based news source Bikya Masr. Mohammed Yahia is a science journalist and editor working with IslamOnline.net and based in Cairo, Egypt.)
To read more about Copengahen and the Middle East see:
Lebanon’s IndyACT Says Arabs Are More Than Oil
The Middle Eastern View of Copenhagen
Greenpeace Calls on Israeli Prime Minister to Attend Copenhagen Climate Change Conference
OPEC’s Official Statement on Copenhagen