Over 30,000 participants poured into Copenhagen from 192 countries all round the world in December 2009 for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Tens of thousands more, however, did not need to go there in person – or add thousands of tonnes to the meeting's travel-related greenhouse gas emissions. For them, the best way to 'be there' was to link up from afar, via some impressively cutting edge virtual conference facilities.
With the spirit of the meeting clearly demanding that the gathering should be as environmentally friendly as possible, the organizers saw this sophisticated use of information and communications technology as one very positive solution. It could, they realized, be the most efficient and sustainable way of enabling the presidents, prime ministers, environment and climate ministers, UN officials, non-governmental organizations and media groups inside the Bella Centre conference building to consult with their advisers and colleagues back home, hold meetings with advocacy groups, give press conferences and reach out to other stakeholder sessions in their own countries and elsewhere in the world.
This was the thinking behind what came to be called the Global Climate Change Meeting Platform Exchange. The system was set up, and paid for, by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with Cisco Systems. At its heart were four 'Cisco TelePresence' rooms in the Bella Centre, specifically designed to make local and remote meeting participants feel as if they were in the same room. Their equipment cost around USD 90,000 each, but conference participants could use them free of charge, interfacing in real time with any of 77 remote Telepresence suites around the world, including in 20 Danish embassies and in UN buildings in Bonn, Nairobi, Geneva and New York. The system also offered interoperability with traditional videoconferencing systems, and Cisco Systems also provided the conference with LAN and wi-fi network facilities.
The virtual conference network was used intensively throughout the two weeks of COP15 (this being the official name for the Copenhagen gathering, as the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). It racked up a total of 149 sessions and more than 250 hours of TelePresence meetings. A virtual theatre was also created so presenters from 14 countries could interact with delegates at the conference. By all accounts the impact was remarkable and the technology worked seamlessly, proving a vivid presence and broadening the dialogue out to key stakeholders who were not in Copenhagen. Delegations gave daily updates to their heads of state, and heads of state at the meeting reached journalists in their own country. NGOs conducted meetings with supporters and donors, and media organisations brought together experts, government officials and business executives to debate key issues around climate change.
"The deployment is part of the Danish government's commitment towards making COP15 as environmentally friendly and collaborative as possible”, said Svend Olling, head of department at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We are inaugurating a meeting platform that brings inclusiveness and efficiency to the political arena."