The inside of the UN Climate Summit in New York last week was a strange place. I arrived expecting to spend the day hearing sombre heads of state outline what their nations would be doing to tackle climate change. I didn't expect to end the day watching a performance by British pop hit, circa 2005, Natasha Bedingfield.
In the UN skyscraper overlooking the banks of the East River packs of suited bureaucrats from every corner of the planet rubbed shoulders with an exotic mixture of indigenous people clad in their national dress, celebrities (actor Leonardo DiCaprio gave the opening address) and the world's media. Even American Nu-metal band, Linkin Park (apparently the pop world's primary climate advocates) were in attendance, for what purpose I wasn't entirely sure. It was certainly bizarre but it seems this was a pretty run of the mill day in the slightly mad international waters of the UN.
I imagined the arrival of more than 100 world leaders to midtown Manhattan would drive the locals, never slow to make their views known, to the point of distraction. Swarms of uniformed NYPD locked down the streets around the UN compound making driving down 1st Avenue even more frustrating than normal. The hardy UN regulars who are used to the infamous queues knew what to expect, however, arriving before dawn to beat the official delegations. Forewarned, me and my Christian Aid colleagues were up at 5am to follow suit.
Although being surrounded by gleaming modern edifices of steel and glass, the rectangular UN skyscraper has a strangely dated feel to it. It's full of slightly odd features such as narrow single file elevators and rooms with off kilter decor. It feels like what the future was supposed to look like in 1950.
Despite the quirks there is something rather magnificent - beautiful even - about the whole idea of the UN. It brings together almost every country on the planet and treats them with equality - in principle at least. At the summit each head of state, from President Obama to the President of Vanuatu, was given the same four minutes to speak about the impact of climate change on their country and what they were doing to contribute to the global effort to tackle it. Like the financial world where the rich get richer, much of global society shamelessly gives more influence to the already powerful. But at the UN the rich industrial polluters have to sit and listen to the tiny pacific island states facing extinction from a phenomenon they did nothing to create and alone can do nothing to prevent.
At the summit it was a poem from the Pacific which stole the show and raised the delegates to their feet. Twenty-six-year-old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands recited a letter to her baby daughter entitled "Dear Matafele Peinem" in which she spoke of her hope that she would not grow up to become a climate refugee because by then the nations of the world would have acted to address global warming. It was a powerful opening moment which seemed to galvanise those attending and reminded them, like the 400,000 strong People's Climate March two days before, that outside the building were millions of people demanding their political leaders turn their warm words of rhetoric into concreate actions to cool the planet.
And on the whole, they began to deliver. Many leaders from every region of the planet called for a peak in global emissions by 2020, six countries pledged $2.3 billion to the Green Climate Fund designed to help the world's poorest countries deal with climate change and there was condemnation of polluting fossil fuels with David Cameron calling for an end to the 'economically and environmentally perverse fossil fuel subsidies.'
Outside the summit, the corporate world got in on the act with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, heirs to the man who kick started the US oil industry announcing they would disinvest from fossil fuels.
And a number of governments, together with companies such as Kellogg's, Nestle and the palm oil giant Cargill, issued a summit pledge, saying they would halve the rate of deforestation by the end of the decade and restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether such undertakings will be honoured. But all in all, it was not a bad day's work for an oddball institution featuring Natasha Bedingfield as the headline act.Suggest a correction