Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

'Jaw-dropping' queue for climate summit

By Sarah Mukherjee
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Copenhagen

Waiting for accreditation (AFP)
Delegates have endured hours of waiting outside the Bella Center

"Beware - the accreditation is a nightmare."

These were the words of advice as I arrived in Copenhagen for the second week of the climate change conference.

As the Ministers were arriving this week, and the demand for material had been so great from the BBC's news and other outlets, I was to form part of the "second wave", to provide reports for Breakfast and the One O'Clock News, and material for the News Channel.

Reports had been filtering in the week before of the long hours of waiting that formed the accreditation process, but nothing had prepared us for the scale of the chaos at the start of the second week.

I have been to quite a few of these international dos in my time as a journalist, and I know that, whatever the nation's reputation for efficiency may be, the worst bit is getting in.

There are thousands of people from all over the world, trying to get hundreds of different categories of badge for the same conference, in one accreditation centre. This kind of situation always requires superhuman levels of patience if you happen to be in the queue.

So myself and radio producer Beth, who were staying in the same hotel, set off well in advance of our morning commitments.

We got the heaving tube train, and finally arrived at the Bella Center, where the conference was taking place. I gasped as I saw the queue to get in, which stretched from the tube station into the distance. But then our jaws dropped as we looked in the other direction, trying to find the end of the line.

Queue of queues

Try and imagine the queue if shoppers for the first day of the January sales of all the stores in Britain, tennis fans for on-the-day tickets for Wimbledon, and visitors to Madame Tussaud's on the busiest day of the summer holidays, were all made to stand in the same place. Then double it.

This was a great snaking, weaving, shivering - the temperature hovered just above freezing - mass of people.

Campaigners in woolly hats, government advisers in suits, television crews with boxes of kit, academics and many others all waiting, all shuffling forward an inch at a time.

The rest of us, those of us who could still feel our feet, shuffled closer to the perimeter fence

We found ourselves in the queue next to our colleague Tom Fielden from the BBC's Today programme, and a man who was an adviser to the Irish government.

I got a call from Jon, the cameraman I'm working with, who was with the engineers there to provide the television feed.

"It's not looking good" said Jon, "the computer systems have crashed, and they're only letting fifty people in an hour".

I looked at the queue. By my reckoning, we were on track to get in some time in Spring 2025. But surely they'd sort it all out soon?

The northern winter sky slowly lightened from indigo to dull grey, and we slowly shuffled forward. I found out the Irish government adviser had been working on the Irish climate change bill.

A team from Greenpeace handed out coffee. A pleasant young man gave us a magazine with a polar bear on it, and someone from a vegetarian society gave us a sandwich.

But the pull-together mood of solidarity began to sour as we all realised the queue for accreditation had simply stopped moving. We then saw that the queue to get in for the people with badges had stopped moving.

Then it became obvious that the people who had arrived last were in a queue that was getting in first.

To Shangri-la

The amiable chatter that had characterised the morning began to tail off, as a man with a megaphone came down the line asking people from government delegations to make themselves known.

"That's me" grinned the man from the Irish government, and, without a backwards glance, he disappeared towards the Shangri-la that was the arrivals tent.

People began to give up. "We are the climate refugees now" said a French woman, as she and her colleagues headed away.

The rest of us, those of us who could still feel our feet, shuffled closer to the perimeter fence.

Another announcement. "Those outside the fence - the wait will be three to six hours. Please be patient." I have never heard an entire crowd laugh ironically as one before.

Eco-alliances were breaking down all over the place. A few green groups started shouting "What do we want - accreditation. When do we want it - now!"

A group of Australians with a blow-up kangaroo were demonstrating about their country's use of coal. Several people pointed out that a truck load of Australian coal and a few fire lighters would be rather welcome. It wasn't just the blow-up kangaroo that looked deflated.

News from our colleagues inside: the Danish and UN authorities had accredited more than 45,000 charity and pressure group representatives alone for a conference centre that holds 20,000 maximum.

Perhaps maths isn't a collective strong point. As the hall was now full, they were letting one in, one out. Make that: "Arrival time Spring 2035".

It was quarter to two, the beginning of the end of the short Nordic day. As Beth, Tom and I could no longer feel our heads, and given the fact we hadn't moved for three hours, we decided to call it a day.

I can't tell you how much we're looking forward to doing it again tomorrow. And yes, there is a brewery in Copenhagen.

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