They talked. Oh, how they talked. Yesterday, the vast plenary hall of the Copenhagen Bella Center became an endless conveyor belt of presidents and prime ministers, each one eager to prove that they cared more about the environment than the last.
It was a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest. Some of the entries were quite listenable to (mainly the shorter ones). Some were predictable. A few were memorably bizarre.
Most of them said the right things, talking at length about why the talking had to stop, about why it was important to act now, why we must not discuss things interminably. Then they vacated the lectern for yet another speaker, and the day, followed by the evening, and then the night, wore on.
Quite a few of them mentioned the younger generations, the poor unfortunates who will have to face the consequences of global warming. We heard about Shimon Perez’s grandchildren, and a six-year-old girl from Canberra who had written a letter to Kevin Rudd.
“Don’t let down little Gracie,” the Australian prime minister implored the assembly. “The children of the world are watching us and listening.”
“None of us come to this conference with clean hands,” Mr Rudd continued, at the risk of being misinterpreted as a personal hygiene obsessive.
The prime minister of Greece, George Papandreou, was notable for the fact that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announcer was unable to pronounce his name. And if you think that’s embarrassing, spare a thought for Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso, who was welcomed to the lectern with the words: “I’m terribly sorry if I’ve misspelt your name, your excellency” (he hadn’t).
The star of the show was Juan Evo Morales Ayma, the president of Bolivia, whose delegates had already embarrassed the UNFCCC by staging a noisy walk-out on Wednesday before almost being clubbed by overzealous Danish police.
Why has nobody been talking about the causes of climate change? Mr Ayma demanded, and then explained: “The causes come from capitalism. There’s the culture of life and there’s the culture of death, and the culture of death is capitalism. We have an obligation to free Mother Earth from capitalism.”
And so he went on for a quarter of an hour, during which time the number of people sitting in the hall – which was never full anyway – began to dwindle steadily. Perhaps they gave up because of the English interpreter's live translation of the president’s rambling socialist invective, which had started to sound as if he was too embarrassed to repeat what he was hearing.
The president of Mongolia, who had travelled 7,000 miles to be there, invited us to come and meet some goat herders, while the Mauritian premier warned that Earth could soon turn into Mars if we’re not careful.
Great Britain’s entry was delivered by Gordon Brown, who opted for a Biblical tone: “Hurricanes, floods, typhoons and droughts that were once all regarded as the acts of an invisible god are now revealed to be also the visible acts of man,” he thundered.
The PM was sandwiched between Albania’s Sali Berisha and president Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. The latter statesman praised the Prince of Wales for his role in solving the world’s woes (obviously he hadn’t heard about Charles’s private jet).
As rallying calls go, Gordon’s effort started quite well: the assembly were told that we faced the “greatest global challenge of our time” with the potential to “wipe whole nations from the map”. But it tailed off when he got to the figures, which sounded as if he was delivering a Budget.
Before every speaker, the bored announcer recited the same phrase. “It gives me pleasure to welcome to the conference…” he sighed, followed by the relevant leader’s name. Undoubtedly a pleasant tradition but by the time the 50th speaker rose to make their way to the lectern (for the record: president Traian Basescu of Romania) even he looked like he doubted this statement’s sincerity.
The UNFCCC clearly felt that forcing one person to listen to all the speeches would be totally unfair – every so often, the announcer was substituted for somebody else, who dutifully delivered the same phrases in a similar tone.
And so, after Lloyd Gabriel Pascal of Dominica gave the final speech in the early hours of the morning (nobody knows what he said because they had all gone home), the contest ended. Today, we find out who won, but don’t get your hopes up – most scenarios will see Earth receiving nul points.