COP17 Durban UN climate talks Dec 1

1:43am GMT: Imagine you’re a Canadian entrepreneur just off the plane to promote your business in Cape Town. In your hotel, you buy a couple of papers to get yourself on the local wavelength.

On one page, you are greeted with a full page advertisement displaying a letter from prominent South Africans:

Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection. Today, you’re home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change

Quickly turning the page, you spot the headline:

We are truly sorry for our government’s stance on climate change

It’s an article by the embarrassed Canadian Youth Delegation attending the UN climate talks.

Good luck in your business meetings tomorrow. And when you get home, remind your prime minister that globalisation takes no prisoners.

2:10am GMT: It’s not just the Green Climate Fund that was coshed on the head today by the dreaded UN procedural phrase “informal consultations will be held.”  This is territory which gets the host country into trouble very easily if trust in the “backroom” process cannot be sustained.

Remember last year how Bolivia’s solo objection to the Cancun agreements was unceremoniously shovelled aside by the Mexican presidency determined to save the UN process at all costs? And how we all felt rather bad about it?

It turns out that the Mexicans felt bad too, coming to Durban with a proposal to amend the governing UN Convention:

to allow a “last resort” vote in cases when every effort to reach consensus has failed on issues that carry broad support

Needless to say, Bolivia objected and those consultations will begin.

The other issue is much longer in the tooth. The Russians proposed a review of the list of Annex 1 (rich) and 2 (not so rich) countries that was determined back in 1992. Everyone knows it will have to be updated – but not yet.

2:42am GMT: The conference discussion about the Green Climate Fund was slated to be yesterday’s big story but the outcome was all too predictable and therefore not yet covered by big media.

All credit to the Pakistan representative of the Adopt-a-Negotiator team for posting the most insightful piece I can find so far. Farrukh Zaman achieves this by supplementing the boring plenary proceedings with action from a separate finance group discussion about long term funding.

In the plenary the US and Saudi Arabia carried out their threat to object to the draft instrument for setting up the fund. The ALBA Group of Latin American countries led by Venezuela weighed in with their own grievances.

The President had no option but to offer to “undertake informal consultations.” Maite Nkoana-Mashabane stressed that these consultations will be open, transparent and inclusive. There were reservations about what this will mean in practice and how long it’s going to take.

A big test here for the South African hosts to prevent the US from holding things up until the final hours next week as a bargaining chip.

2:51am GMT: A self-explanatory introduction to a report from Mongabay about that vote on the controversial Brazilian forest code:

The Brazilian Senate’s much-anticipated vote over proposed changes to the country’s Forest Code will take place Tuesday December 6, rather than today. The delay will give lawmakers more time to understand pending revisions to the code

This vote had been touted as a potential embarrassment to a country whose role could be crucial in the Durban climate talks.

It’s odd that the delay is only a week. If the government is in a position to influence the timing, why did they not defer the vote until after Durban is over?

Trying to get a grip on climate politics is bad enough. I can’t cope with Brazil as well.

11:30am GMT: The Climate Action Network has just finished its daily briefing on behalf of over 700 NGOs around the world. I want to take advantage of their presentation to tidy up where we are on the Green Climate Fund.

It’s one of the big tests of the Durban talks to get this new Fund moving so that promised long term finance can start to flow to countries affected by global warming.

Ilana Solomon of ActionAid USA confirmed that the draft instrument to establish the fund was not approved by the conference yesterday, due to objections by the US. Other countries with (other) reservations include Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (on behalf of the regional ALBA Group).

Details and the timetable for the “informal consultations” that will now be facilitated by the South African presidency were requested but not forthcoming. Referring to the consensus achieved by the Transitional Committee in advance of the conference, Ilana warned:

we risk unravelling the entire agreement if all parties start renegotiating it

However, she felt that there is still determination amongst all parties that the fund should be “operationalized” in Durban.

Although not disclosed in the debate, the US objections are thought to focus on the relationship between the Fund and the UN climate regime, on the rules for private scetor engagement (too strict), and on wording the might prevent contributions from the richer developing countries like China.

We could do with some clarity on the process and timetable from the South Africans today. It’s unsatisfactory that such a crucial component of the talks is left blowing in the wind.

1:16pm GMT: I have a slight variation on the communications question posed here by Adam earlier today. How should climate journalists report the fatal flood disaster that hit Durban on the night before the opening of the UN talks?

Divine retribution for the UN’s failure to protect God’s creation? A portent of things to come? A banana skin laid by global warming skeptics?

It’s not just the Durban COP17 coincidence. The deluge came just days after the release of the Extreme Events and Disasters report, a key input to the talks.

A single event cannot be attributed to human-induced climate change.

The stock reply, given when Adam interviewed Dr Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, publisher of the report. But Dr Pachauri did go on to explain that his report “clearly established” that we can expect more of this sort of event.

My feeling is that the media has been properly restrained in exploiting the deaths of poor city residents to advance the discourse on climate change.

In an excellent example published this morning, the Managing Editor of, Heather Libby, has clearly resisted the temptation to rush out a story which landed on her lap on arrival in Durban.

A few more days of wise reflection may inspire campaigners to find the appropriate tone for bringing this terrible event to bear on the ministerial decision-makers when they arrive in Durban next week.

2:49pm GMT: The head of the Bolivian delegation, Rene Orellana, announced this morning that he will be submitting proposals to the conference for an alternative to REDD+ (the scheme for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation).

We have observed that the mechanics of REDD emphase the role of forests as carbon stocks. We think of forests as places where life grows, where people live.

This alternative recognises the multiple contribution of forests to food, water and biodiversity. It follows that climate change demands adaptation actions to protect these assets, as well as preventing further deforestation. A much more nuanced package than getting paid for not clearing forested land.

Towards the end of the briefing the Bolivians did rather gloomily concede that REDD+ does enjoy a following wind in the talks. New ideas may not be welcome.

I’ve seen so much criticism of REDD from the biggest and best NGOs that I’m sure the Bolivians will not be without sympathy. The International Institute for Environment and Development was involved in a side event yesterday which doesn’t sound too flattering about what’s on the table.

One or two basics I try to keep in mind as we wade into this topic over coming days.

First, there are real and unresolved problems in defining how the REDD principle can be administered (measuring forest cover etc) before money even comes into it. Second it is possible, maybe even likely, that REDD can move forward without the need for private sector finance. And third, it is possible to involve private finance without recourse to the dreaded carbon markets.

The Bolivians should cheer up a little.

4:58pm GMT: Brazil’s daily press briefings have been timed in the graveyard slot of 6.00pm but as yet this has failed to dim the smiling benevolence of Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago, head of the Brazilian delegation.

Such is the Ambassador’s charm that Alex Morales of Bloomberg stumbled into a most unprofessional apology for asking such difficult questions about the European roadmap for a climate change agreement.

Mr Corrêa do Lago playfully danced around this minefield of a question as though engaged in snakes and ladders with his grandchildren. “One little word can make all the difference,” he declared.

When Mr Morales demanded to know what that word might be, I fully expected the Ambassador to say “please”, echoing our own grandparents’ affection for that little word. Instead he reflected that different countries have their own ideas about important words.

Indeed they do. But this shadow-boxing of the early days of the UN talks is going to come to a sickening halt before much longer. Which loyalties will give way? How do Brazilian ambassadors climb down?

5:25pm GMT: Just one potentially important point that we did learn in the Brazilian press briefing. Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago said very emphatically that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) cannot continue unless a second commitment period for emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol is agreed.

His logic is impeccable:

If there is no amendment of the Kyoto Protocol, you will not be creating the demand (for carbon credits). This is the basis of the Clean Development Mechanism. 

He’s referring to the central purpose of the CDM which is to enable rich countries to offset their emissions obligations with carbon credits from low carbon projects in developing countries.

Many corporate interests hanging out in Durban are lobbying for the CDM to be allowed to continue without the Protocol. During today’s conference sessions Claudia Salerno of Venezuela was busy seeking reassurance that this commercial perspective has no traction.

But as we reported here yesterday, the South African minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, appeared to envisage just that possibility (of a decoupled CDM).

Now, the Brazilian Ambassador would never concede to a difference of opinion with a fellow BASIC country. We’ll be charitable and observe that Ms Mashabane was speaking in her neutral role as President of the UN talks.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK