In bizarre scenes, more appropriate to the London Palladium than the soulless Qatar National Convention Centre, the annual round of high-level climate change negotiations came to an end yesterday.
Despite the exhaustion of two weeks of gruelling negotiations and despite an outcome which prompted widespread anger and disillusion, thousands of delegates from almost every country in the world were seen rolling with laughter and leaping to their feet to applaud the approval of Document CMP9L9 and others of similar appeal.
The hysteria intensified on each rendering of “hearing no objection, I decided,” followed by the crash of the gavel. In two minutes the business of the conference was done.
The unlikely source of the entertainment was His Excellency Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the Qatari President of the 18th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP18). The host country chairs the formal proceedings and leads efforts to ensure that the negotiations don’t get bogged down.
Those of us following COP18 could never quite make out Mr Al-Attiyah. His credentials for a post which calls for sympathetic understanding of climate change issues were appalling. He’s a former president of OPEC.
At the opening conference on the first day, he committed an awful blunder in suggesting that aggregate emissions per country were more important than per capita emissions. Al-Attiyah had to be shielded from the media for the rest of the event.
His manner veered towards buffoonery, more inclined to make a joke than smooth ruffled feathers of the warring factions that frequent these occasions. Protocol of international diplomacy usually warns against such an approach because few jokes travel well.
Yet Al-Attiyah cannot possibly be anybody’s fool. He’s a survivor of the cut-throat world of Arab politics, currently a senior minister in the Qatari government.
So it came to pass that on that final Saturday evening Al-Attiyah earned the undying gratitude of climate delegates desperate to catch their flights home. The chain of events and skulduggery of some of the parties are too complex to attempt to trace while still recovering on a Sunday afternoon.
But there’s another aspect to this outpouring of relief which I’m sure troubled many observers. The documents coming under the hammer of decisions in those madcap two minutes contain the best efforts of the international community to prevent the devastation that seems increasingly likely to be the consequence of climate change.
These best efforts are nowhere near good enough. It’s probable that our grandchildren will exercise themselves greatly in trying to understand how we could have been so negligent.
The music hall act that concluded COP18 may come to encapsulate the failure of contemporary world politics to address an agenda relevant to present or future imperatives.