Until now, she has been the urbane Danish city’s most famous symbol.

But over the next two weeks, the Little Mermaid will have her limelight stolen, as Copenhagen becomes synonymous with the world’s increasingly fraught struggle to find harmony with the earth’s elemental forces.

The 15th United Nations climate change conference opens tomorrow in the Bella Centre, where 15,000 delegates from 192 countries -- watched by 5,000 journalists -- try to agree how to cut the pollution that is warming the globe. It has been billed as the world’s most important summit, at least since the Second World War.

But as the long-awaited event has drawn closer, so passions have risen and conflicts erupted. None more savagely than the row over the e-mails hacked by persons unknown from scientists at the world-leading Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Extracts have been seized on by those who doubt man’s culpability for climate change to suggest that the whole basis of climate science -- that human pollution is causing global warming -- is flawed. The British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, even claimed climate change was a leftist conspiracy “as deadly as any conceived by Stalin or Mao”.

But all this has been firmly contested by armies of experts, who point out that a few badly-worded emails don’t undermine a well-established global scientific consensus. Yesterday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown weighed in, saying that the Copenhagen summit should not be distracted by “behind the times, anti-science, flat-earth climate sceptics”.

He was backed by Labour’s Scottish leader, Iain Gray, who told the Sunday Herald: “Anyone who denies climate change today is denying the future of our planet.”

Gray was marching through Glasgow yesterday with thousands of others from all sectors of Scottish society to demand tough action on pollution. The march, unprecedented in many ways, was a sign that a new movement is being born.

People were not just worried about the environment, wildlife, or the fate of insects -- important as they may be -- but about poverty, justice and fairness in an unequal world, made less equal every day by the pollution belched out by rich countries.

That is the issue, in essence, that the negotiators in Copenhagen will have to tackle. The rich countries have to agree dramatic cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions, and they have to find serious money to help the poor countries develop without tipping the world into climate chaos.

As many thousands of dedicated souls move this week to Copenhagen by every form of transport available, the world will be holding its breath. Now that US President Obama has said he will be there for the last, crucial days with other world leaders, hopes are higher that a meaningful deal might be struck.

But nothing is certain. Copenhagen could become a byword for success, or a memento to failure. And the Little Mermaid still sits silently by the shore, awaiting her fate.



From pedals to jets: the many roads to Copenhagen


By Rob Edwards


For 61-year-old Rosalind Jarvis, it will be an act of love. When she mounts her bike at 7am on Wednesday morning to cycle 140 miles to the climate summit in Copenhagen, it will be for her four children, her three grandchildren and her husband,Geoffrey, who died in February.

The churchgoer from the small rural parish of Baldernock in East Dunbartonshire is worried about the kind of world her children and grandchildren will inherit. If countries do not commit at Copenhagen to cut the pollution that is wrecking the climate, she fears the future could be bleak.

But people do not seem to care, she said. “There is still a huge denial about climate change. Apparently it is people of my age who are most in denial. They don’t seem to be concerned about future generations. It’s very worrying.”

Mrs Jarvis is just one of many thousands of people who will be making their way to Copenhagen over the next few days because they do care. Campaigners, activists, academics, scientists, students, professionals, public officials and politicians are all heading east by every available means of transport.

One man is walking, a woman is hitching, groups have hired coaches, many are using ferries, and there are lots of long-distance train journeys booked via Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel. Most government officials, a Scottish minister and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency are flying to Copenhagen to save time.

Mrs Jarvis is planning to take her bike to London by train and cycle to Harwich in Essex to get a ferry. Along with others, she will pedal across Denmark, aiming to get to Copenhagen in time for the mass protests planned for Saturday.

She is an active supporter of the charity Christian Aid, as was her husband. “Geoffrey was a great campaigner for action on climate change so I thought that this would be a great thing to do in his memory. He would have loved to be there, although he would not have enjoyed the cycling.”

Pushpanath Krishnamurthy, 57, a charismatic campaigner with Oxfam, started walking from his home in Oxford to Copenhagen on November 16. Carrying only a small backpack and staying overnight with sympathisers, by Friday night he had made it to Nyborg in Denmark, with about 60 miles to go.

He has a pain in his leg, he said, but is determined to continue. “Gandhi has always been a personal inspiration for me and his protest walks have been a direct inspiration for this project,” he said. I have seen the effects of climate change firsthand, from unseasonal droughts and lost harvests in Kenya to worsening flooding in Bangladesh. The world’s poorest people are the least prepared and insured to survive and recover from climate change.”

Megan Bickle, 19, a physics student from Barra in the Outer Hebrides, is hitch-hiking from Manchester University to Copenhagen. “Students care so much about climate in this country because it’s the biggest

problem we will have to face in our adult life,” she said.

“It gives me so much hope and energy to know that there are so many of us who are passionate about climate injustice, and about handing over a better planet to our kids.” Christian Aid has hired a coach to take supporters on a marathon 27-hour road trip from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Leeds to Copenhagen. Oxfam campaigners from Scotland are travelling by train and passenger ferry.

Friends of the Earth Scotland are taking 30 activists on a two-day journey by train to London and then by Eurostar to Brussels, followed by a coach to Copenhagen. WWF Scotland campaigners have booked 36-hour train journeys via London.

In contrast, the Scottish climate change minister, Stewart Stevenson, will be flying to Copenhagen, along with five officials.

“Overland travel by train was considered for the minister and the delegation but the duration of the journey ruled this out,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is sending three senior officials by air. Although travelling by train would have saved 30 kilos of carbon pollution per person, flying “represented significant savings in terms of staff time and ticket costs”, according to an agency spokeswoman.

Two MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s climate change committee, the SNP’s Rob Gibson and Labour’s Cathy Peattie, are also flying to Copenhagen. The Sunday Herald, too, has accepted a return flight offered by the European Commission.

However, the committee’s convener, Green MSP Patrick Harvie, has insisted on travelling by train to set an example. But because the parliament will not pay for the extra cost of rail travel, he has had to fork out £439 of his own money for the tickets.

He said: “This is a conference on climate change and we’re there to say Scotland has set ambitious targets, so I believe it’s an important signal. It’s worth making that personal commitment.”




Scientists? Convinced. Public? Sceptical


By Iain Macwhirter


There’s an advert playing in Scottish cinemas paid for by the environmental campaign group Plane Stupid. It shows polar bears falling from the sky, bouncing off tall buildings and then landing in bloody heaps on the city streets. Killed by plane emissions. It’s pretty disgusting, and when it was shown at a cinema last week the largely youthful audience erupted in derision. “That’s bloody ridiculous. F****** a********,” was one of the comments I overheard. I fear there may be a bit of consumer resistance here, guys.

There may be very little scientific doubt about the reality of man-made climate change, but there are signs that, right now, a lot of ordinary people just don’t want to know. It’s not just the internet, which has become a seething hotbed of climate change “denial”, as the green campaigners put it. It’s not just the conventional media that tend to give the isolated opponents of man-made climate change equal status with most climate scientists. Even before the scandal at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, where some hacked emails suggested that researchers might have manipulated some of the figures, evidence was growing that the public is increasingly sceptical.

An Ipsos Mori poll in the Guardian last year dismayed campaigners by showing that most people in Britain are not convinced by the case for climate change and that many believe that green taxes are just “stealth” taxes. A recent Populus poll in the Times suggested that only one-quarter of people believe that climate change is the most serious problem the world faces. Research earlier this year by the University of Cardiff suggests the number of people who do not trust climate scientists about global warming has doubled in the past five years. In America, despite the arrival of Barack Obama, climate change scepticism is also on the march. A Pew poll in October found that 57% of Americans believe the Earth is warming, down from 71% in April 2008. Only 36% put this down to human activities, compared with 47% last year.

Now, it isn’t all bad. Most people do believe the climate is changing and that we need to be concerned. But this disconnect between the scientific establishment and the public is worrying. It has emboldened countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that rely on oil for a living to start saying the climate case is unproven. Simultaneously, the galaxy of green organisations, which used to be so much a part of British youth culture, seem to have lost their voice. This may be because environmentalists are now part of the establishment.

Since the Stern Report two years ago, governments have largely fallen into line behind the case for man-made climate change. This has left a vacuum of dissent which is being filled by the sometimes rabid climate sceptics of the blogosphere. There is endemic suspicion today of politicians and scientists -- it is one of the defining characteristics of the age of paranoia. That governments think the climate is changing is enough to make many anti-establishment-minded people believe that the whole thing must be a hoax. Or just a false alarm -- like the millennium bug, bird flu, BSE or any of a hundred health scares over the past decade.

The internet has allowed this climate scepticism to flourish. Indeed, the undermining of the case for man-made climate change may be the first major achievement of the blogosphere -- its first dubious entry into public affairs. The sheer volume of negative commentary on climate change on the internet is astonishing, and is enough to make any casual surfer believe climate change is at best just a questionable theory. The environmentalists, for all their early adoption of the internet, don’t seem to be able to mobilise effectively on it.

The argument is over in the scientific community. All the national science academies of the industrialised countries accept that the climate is changing and that we are largely responsible. So do all the world’s leading scientific organisations. These organisations endorse the assessment of the 2,500 scientists of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that there is about a 90% chance it is happening and we are responsible. You can’t buck the scientific consensus. But it doesn’t mean a thing if the public don’t buy it.



A bug’s-eye view of life in the warm


Rob Edwards


Millions of bugs are on the move as the planet warms, bringing the risk of infestations and extinctions to Scotland.

Experts say there is already evidence that some insects are migrating as rising temperatures and changing weather patterns alter their environment.

Insects are at the bottom of the food chain and act as a barometer of environmental health. If they go, warn scientists, the food chain could be disrupted and whole ecosystems collapse.

Jonny Hughes, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s director of conservation, warned that there would be winners and losers as the climate continued to change. He said: “Scotland’s forests could be devastated by pests such as the green spruce aphid, which is likely to survive in much greater numbers with the onset of milder winters.”

Iain MacGowan, an insect expert from the Government’s wildlife conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), said: “These species are like the canaries in the mines, and will warn us what is happening. They are in the frontline of climate change.”

SNH has conducted a survey of the Cairngorms area to establish a baseline of insect and spider populations so that the impacts of rising temperatures can be measured.

In 2006, the then Scottish Executive warned hotter temperatures could bring some unattractive creepy crawlies to the UK, including ticks, scorpions, termites and poisonous spiders.





Vietnam: The human face of climate change


By Helen McArdle


Martin Parr described his photo essay on Vietnam as a chronicle of the “knock-on effect of climate change”.

“I’m not actually photographing climate change per se,” he says. “It is almost an impossible thing to photograph because it is nebulous and abstract.”

Martin was invited by Oxfam to capture images of areas affected by flooding ahead of the global climate change summit in Copenhagen.

He visited the country’s most vulnerable zones, the central coastal province of Quang Tri and the Hai Lang district, where severe storms in September -- up to 16in (400mm) of rain in eight hours in some areas -- wiped out rice crops.

Among the most striking encounters of his trip was meeting a couple forced to take refuge in a hastily-contructed mezzanine above their home and who had to tie their wedding bed to a tree to prevent it being washed away.

“To think they spent five or six days up there during floods ... you can’t help but be moved by that,” says Martin.

As for attitudes to climate change, he complains governments are “just playing at the edges” of the problem.

Change requires some “really radical determination”, he adds.

“With the demands on the globe increasing all the time, with the wealth creation in emerging economies, particularly the likes of China, India and Brazil, where everyone will want the car, the fridge, the air conditioning that you and I take for granted, we are screwed.”



Martin Parr interview, December 2009

Can you describe what you did on this trip?

“We went to areas affected by flooding, and we were photographing around the disasters of people having their houses flooded, and what they do to keep themselves dry, by putting things up on their mezzanines, and discussing what objects they would take as a priority when they have to evacuate or go up on their mezzanine.”

Reflections on the trip?

“It’s been fascinating to see these things first-hand -- until you actually get there you never realise the problems people have in day-to-day living in many parts of the world, so it’s good to confront that and actually hear the stories, because it’s very easy to go through a country and see and acknowledge that there is poverty, but not actually meet people telling you about it directly.”

How do you go about photographing poverty and climate change?

“With climate change it’s the subtle association that interests me, rather than photographing the thing direct. The danger with NGO photography is that it has the potential to all look the same. Therefore, the viewer, flicking through the weekend magazines, is going to flip through quickly when they see more black and white pictures of people starving. My job is to try and do something different, that hopefully might get people to actually read it. 


“This whole notion of people actually living and accepting the flood conditions, and therefore having decisions made in their head of what they would most value when it comes to the crunch of the quick evacuation, or the quick ascent into the mezzanine, is fascinating. But in fact, here we have a relationship of people with an object, which of course is something I’ve explored many times, predominantly in Western society. 


“The whole reason why I photograph Western society is because I don’t believe that we are exempt from problems and everything else is everybody else’s fault. We are all guilty, we are all in this together. We’ve created this problem. With climate change, the wealthy West is almost solely responsible.”

Any particular people and stories who stood out for you?

“The couple who tie their wedding bed to a tree; being up on a mezzanine with a couple, and to think they spend five or six days up there during floods. To think about this when you see it and hear it first hand is very moving, you can’t help but be moved by that.”

What are your thoughts on climate change?

“Until there’s some really radical determination to change this, and the wealthy West stops and sacrifices the things they take for granted now, the ability to get in their car, the ability to book any flight anywhere in the world, nothing’s going to change, it’s just going to get worse and worse. And, with the demands on the globe increasing all the time, with the wealth creation in emerging economies, particularly the likes of China, India and Brazil, where everyone will want the car, the fridge, the air conditioning that you and I take for granted, we’re absolutely screwed. We’re just slowly going to melt away until the planet disappears.”

What do you hope your photographs will achieve?

“We are acutely conscious of climate change in a way that we were not 10 or 20 years ago, it wasn’t even on the agenda. So of course you always think any small contribution towards this debate has to be welcomed, but I’m not for one minute expecting much to change. Ultimately, until you have radical action from governments, nothing will change.” 


Interview by Ben Beaumont