Kyoto Summit: Life's a gas when Carbonosaurus meets the tree people

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The Independent Online
Outside the Kyoto International Conference Hall, past the Gas Mask Please Tree and next to the Melting Ice Penguins, is a blood-curdling poster. Handwritten by South Korean environmentalists in brightly coloured felt-tips, it leaves little doubt about the horrid consequences if the COP3 environment conference breaks up tomorrow without an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "Delegates," it warns, "We will make you Rowing Boats Slaves In the Water World If you fail to Stop Grobal [sic] Warming".

Whatever its consequences for the plant and animal kingdom, the threat of global disaster has had a marvellous effect on the world of non-governmental organisations. As the earth has got hotter and the ice caps smaller, green NGOs have become more numerous and energetic, and for the last nine days in Kyoto, they have been on display all their gorgeous biodiversity.

The 160 governments participating in the Kyoto conference have brought 1,500 official delegates between them, but they are far outnumbered by some 3,500 NGO members. Alphabetically, these range from Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment and Development (A-Seed) to the Wuppertal Institute. Numerically they range from the Solar Electric Light Fund (sole delegate: Ms Laura H. Kosloff) to the Kiko Forum, a giant coalition of Japanese groups, whose 385 delegates easily outnumber the 98 officials from even the mighty United States. Each green group has its own goals, membership and tactics, but deep down all share the sentiment expressed in the Korean poster: a fervent willingness to shackle to the rollocks of the slave galley any government considered insufficiently green.

Strategies vary. The big NGOs, like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the WWF are slick lobbying outfits with good contacts in the delegations and impressively deep pockets. Greenpeace's star attraction is the "Carbonosaurus", a 15ft-high, 3-tonne sculpture of a Tyrannosaurus rex, fashioned out of car exhausts, oil cans and petrol pumps as a "monument to stale technology". The ships and trucks which transport it around the world must generate a fair quantity of carbon dioxide themselves - but the creature, adorned with the name of loathed multi- nationals like Ford and Shell, provides the conference's wackiest sideshow.

All week, the smaller groups have staged a variety of stunts, demos and gimmicks. The Koreans were highly active over the weekend, carving a pair of penguins out of antarctic ice, and adorning the shrubbery around the conference hall with multi-lingual speech bubbles ("Gas mask please," beseeches one bush; "Your loophole is our noose," proclaims another). Greenpeace has been serving green coffee brewed from solar power heated water, and another group set itself the exhausting task of laying on music from a tape player powered by bicycle.

There is a Women's Caucus, and a group of ecumenical clerics who blow a traditional Jewish horn to summon the faithful to prayers for the environment. There is a group called the G-21, consisting of 21 children from 21 countries, aged one to 21, who yesterday smuggled themselves past security to petition CO2 cuts from a recalcitrant US senator.

The common language is English, but it is being stretched to its limits: an event over the weekend, apparently a lecture by a group of jazz-playing, mountain-climbing entomologists, was described in the NGO programme as "Akira Sakata Trio Live and Talk Himalayan Glacier, Take a Look at the Water Flea".

"Any agreement is better than no agreement, but we're in a difficult position," says Jonathan Wootliff of Greenpeace International. "We'd like to say that even a 5 per cent cut is good news. But we can easily be misrepresented, and the danger is that something will be agreed that will just let all the politicians go back to sleep again.

"People like us have got to make sure that they don't get away with it."