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The 11th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Bucharest
Once every three years, the Contracting Parties or member States to the Convention on Wetlands gather to renew old friendships, cast hostile glances round the hall, and freeze the budget for another triennium.
You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
We've been doing these two-week torture galas for so long they almost seem routine, but this time Kristin is coming along to help as a volunteer with our Registration Team.
It's 2 July 2012 and we've landed (quite a while ago) at the airport outside Bucharest, Romania, and now we're milling round the arrivals terminal. Cooling our heels.
The government's Info Point for arriving Ramsar staff and, a few days later, the delegates, observed by a gentleman in a pro-American T-shirt: "Nightmares in Red White and Blue".
We're in our semi-advance party but we've got amongst us colleagues from Africa and god knows where, and in countries like this, getting these folks through the passport control can take hours.
It's in the high 30s (or mid-90s F) outside, but the hotel is blissfully air-conditioned, or it will be as soon as we get the fixit-man up here to bang on the ceiling ducts. That's Kristin there, settling in and resting up to register the diplomatic hordes a few days hence.
Despite the heat, it's still unwise to prop the fire doors open, especially using the fire extinguisher.
Our first glimpse of the venue. The Palace of the Parliament (or Palace of the People, take your pick), the largest building in the world (or second largest, after the Pentagon), built to impress (1,100 rooms, 1 million cubic metres of marble, etc.). Ceaușescu started it in 1980 by leveling most of the city's historic district (1/5 of the city, including 19 Orthodox churches, six synagogues, and 30,000 homes), but when he went off to join the Fraternity of Ex-Dictators in 1989 it was unfinished and still is.
The long walk up to the C entrance -- we had only this side of the thing, of course, the Parliament was meeting in the central section (impeaching the President, Traian Basescu, as a matter of fact), school groups were visiting the museums, and god knows what was going on in the rest of it.
The COP planning process over the past two years, on the Romanian side, was not terribly well done, not done at all, in fact, and then the government changed yet again and the new politically-appointed Environment Minister was uninterested until the Foreign Office started yelling out about international obligations.
As it happened, the government sought bids for an event management company only this year, so the EMC that eventually won the contract only came on site two weeks ago. They did a fabulous job all the way round, but as of today, 3 July, they're only beginning the physical set-up now, and we've got committee and regional delegates' meetings starting tomorrow. This will be fun to watch.
President Basescu survived his impeachment; some weeks later, 87% of those voting agreed to remove him but fewer than the required 50% actually voted. "Mr Basescu said that Romanians had 'rejected a coup' by staying away from polling stations" -- the BBC added that "high summer temperatures and a growing distrust of the whole political elite appeared to have kept voting numbers down". On TV, he seemed like a very nice chap.
The Romanians' COP11 slogan "Wetlands: Home and Destination" can be explained thus: the idea was that wetlands are home to lots of wildlife, etc., and tourist destinations for the rest of us. This didn't work at all in French and Spanish and, in English, only barely.
The view from the front door (of Entrance C) -- given what was going on with the impeachment upstairs, we were watching for APCs streaming down the boulevard. The Boulevard 'Victory of Socialism' was designed to be one metre wider than the Champs Elysees in Paris.
The lobby, soon to be crowded with a thousand delegates, some of them in their national dress. The security people, with their scanners and officiousness, could match the TSA and, even worse, they all smoked non-stop as well.
The plenary sessions will be up there. Two weeks pounding back and forth and up and down on these marble floors . . .!
The staff offices are jury-rigged in this giant hall, with a skylight to let the warming sun's rays down upon us all.
Staff offices are still being set up, however; that's mine, with the translators' rooms directly across the little hall.
My office, but without the second screen I'll be needing (they never brought it, but our charming young Romanian liaison Carmen generously brought me her boyfriend's screen for the duration). When the Secretariat's network went down, a couple of times a day, I could fix it by running into the next office and restarting the router.
It's nearly 40° in here, over 100°F, so I'm also waiting for a big fan for the cubicle -- we're all waiting for big fans, in fact, but they weren't specified in the budget so now my colleagues are out looking for additional funding on the spot. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Kristin is learning the ropes from Valerie, head of the our Registration Team (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
They're going over details with Carmen, our best friend on the Romanian side (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
In the exhibitions hall, the USA Embassy is expected, but not here yet.
We're just trying to find the bathroom in the Labyrinth of Cubicles. (The nearest was out at the lobby, 180 metres away.)
Montse, head of the Document Distribution team, briefs her Romanian team of volunteer college students (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
A local expert explains how the registration and document networks are going to work, or not. They were spotty, but our colleague Manu (blue shirt) consistently saved us from the worst. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Montse's volunteers get on with labeling the pigeonholes. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
The photocopiers, however, proved daunting. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
The Secretary General gratified to see that Montse's Documents Distribution centre is up and running. Now all we need are the documents (I'm still waiting for my computer screen). (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
A young gentleman removing miles of plastic over the red carpets at the last minute (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Kristin checking in the first of the delegates (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
-- Sorry, you're not listed here. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
The Spanish translation team looking forward to getting things moving along. Our French and Spanish translation teams have three translators and two typists, and they are all brilliant; old friends over many years.
The A Team in Bucharest (Photo: Hélène Fabre)
But . . . before we begin the Conference of the Parties, we've got the 44th meeting of the Standing Committee to get through a few days earlier. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
The Deputy Secretary General is leading the Parties through the agenda, flanked on his right by the rapporteur, and on his left by the Republic of Korea (the outgoing Standing Committee Chair) and the Secretary General his own good self. Romania, Mr Faca, at the far right, will soon be elected the President of the COP and the Standing Committee Chair for the next triennium. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Rapporteurs find that the interventions from the delegates are usually easier to record than to make sense of. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
But sometimes you can't really believe what you've just heard. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Kristin has just registered Kevin, a delightful seven-foot Irish wildlife expert from the United Arab Emirates.
Delegates (from Jamaica) flooding in for another day's deliberations. After another day of regional meetings, the Opening Ceremonies begin tonight.
The crowds are crowding in for the gala opening ceremonies, speeches, ethnic dances, etc., and . . . (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
. . . a performance by Gheorghe Zamfir, "The Master of the Pan Flute". Alas, we were at the outdoor bar at the Marriott "Garden" up the hill at the time. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
After interminable allocutions, the awards ceremony for the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award and Evian Special Prize for 2012, and in the Education category, The Wisconsin Wetlands Associations (dear to our Northwoods hearts). Here to receive the award, Ms Katie Beilfuss of the Association, congratulated by the Chair of the Standing Committee. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Finally getting down to business: gathering in the plenary hall
The top table, from left: the Secretary General, outgoing Chair of the Standing Committee, Deputy Secretary General, and Tim, the hapless rapporteur (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
-- We're ready. Let 'er rip! (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
The TV guy is ready, too; he was running a live Web feed and big screens all round the venue (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Dozens of semi-inconsequential environmental and administrative issues were under debate at COP11, but the real passions were unleashed (for three days) on whether the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands should join the United Nations system (under UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme) or remain independent.
Ramsar staff vote-counters ready to swing into action on the "hosting of the Secretariat" issue
This is not actually a vote. This is sort of a vote to decide whether there should be a vote. (There has never been a substantive Ramsar vote in 40 years. Consensus, or inaction, has always prevailed.)
The vote counters. The legalities of voting were hideously complicated, but the preliminary straw voting showed that there wasn't enough support for joining the UN to make the hideous voting necessary. (Here I'm observing in situ but about to be called away before the results.) (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Kristin is taking a break from registration and sharing the excitement from the lobby (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Back-office folks can't always be present where the action is, but we're getting the latest results down in the bunny warrens.
After seven years of stupid and redundant studies by "legal consultants" and having to rapporteur repetitively stupid and redundant meetings of lower-level consular staffers, we are obviously Over-The-Moon to be putting the hosting-of-the-Secretariat matter to rest at long last. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
"Colon Help". Just about time, too.
But it's not over yet. We're back again for more punishment.
All the exhibition stands are up now in the enormous hall . . .
. . . and the US embassy exhibition is unattended but fully rigged. Mostly with the ambassador's nature water colors and photos, and a significant number of American flags plastered everywhere.
We're coming up on the end of it after a week of "negotiations" -- only the Resolution on 'wetlands and climate change' still to be fought out to the very last minute. Of course. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Tim, the hapless rapporteur, has to explain again about how to register amendments to his final reports of the meeting. (Photo: Quartzfilm Romania © Trandafirescu)
Finally, it's over. Here are our French and Spanish translation teams preparing to celebrate.
And the traditional triennial COP photo of the Documentation Officer with the head of the Spanish team, Marta Prats.
All of us Documentation people at the Marriott Gardens, 10 minutes' walk up the hill from our hotel --
Montse, Valerie, Kristin, and Dwight, joined by our old friend Annet from Hungary.
Tomorrow, after we safeguard all the outcomes for the journey home, 14 July is a FREE DAY.
The CD-ROM Proceedings of the Conference of the Parties
and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, .
All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 23 September 2012, updated 25 December 2012.