COP17 Durban UN climate talks Dec 7

1:38am GMT: On Monday the international NGOs turned the ignition on a more hostile attitude towards the US, castigating the delegation for its negative tactics on every comma of the negotiating text.

With one or two exceptions, the media hasn’t been fired up by the prospect of NGOs demanding that the US should “stand aside” if it can’t be more constructive. Todd Stern has now pat-balled his way through two press conferences, not once being challenged on the alleged blocking behaviour.

I’ve always felt that the soft underbelly of US intransigence is the threat of legal reparations for its wilful neglect of the damage caused by global warming. Geoff Lye, Executive Chair of the UK think-tank SustainAbility, puts it perfectly in his blog yesterday (skip to last para):

I have repeatedly observed how it is only a matter of time before carbon intensive companies will follow asbestos and tobacco companies into court. Early legal actions have had limited success, but directors of companies that have chosen not to take responsible climate actions since the scientific evidence became irrefutable in the mid-90s are increasingly exposed to liability claims as damaging weather events and patterns become more frequent

This is the sort of language that the US delegation understands.

2:02am GMT: I really don’t know how to respond to the speech by the UN Secretary-General at the opening of the High-Level Segment of the Durban climate talks yesterday.

Should we admire Ban Ki-moon for his ability to grasp the complex dynamics of the negotiations and gently admonish those who seek to close doors on the good name of the multilateral process?

Or should we feel maddened that he misses the opportunity, and indeed responsibility of his office, to lash out at the collective loss of political courage that the world demands? Did he not reflect on how history will judge his spineless concession:

the ultimate goal of a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach – for now

When in doubt I resort to flippant observation of language. Ban has mastered the use of one-liners, small but perfectly formed injunctions. On paper, they resemble verses from the psalms:

That is the challenge before us today. That is the imperative
Without exaggeration, we can say: the future of our planet is at stake.

Or perhaps better still, the speech could be rewritten as a sort of South Korean form of the haiku:

We must be realistic
About expectations of a breakthrough
in Durban
At both of Earth’s poles
I have seen ice which once dominated
The horizon

2:38am GMT: It could be an inevitable reaction to long days of intensive absorption in the minutiae of these complex negotiations.

Or it could just be irritation at the viral attack that I suffered yesterday (the digital sort) which put me out of action for several hours.

But I will enter Day 8 of the Durban climate talks in a mood of anarchic rebellion at their failure or, more accurately, their serial failure of recent years. I’ll get over it, but for now I’m going to applaud those who speak what others feel but dare not say.

Who is this guy Patrick Bond? He’s had a good conference, accommodating activists on his university premises in Durban and popping up for rabble-rousing interviews in the local media.

Now he’s written a splendid article which talks of a 4-degree temperature rise, 150 million deaths in Africa and alleges that:

Pretoria’s team and the biased pro-Northern chair, SA foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, appear ready to sell out the African continent…an international climate court should be established, and preparations made for comprehensive sanctions against US goods and services.

There’s much more similar invective to enjoy. Bond even has a crack at the Climate Action Network (CAN) as “representing big international NGOs mostly without any commitment to climate justice.”

All the more strange that my second example of a healthy dose of discontent is published in the blog section the CAN site. Written by an unnamed African NGO, it uses far more sober language than Patrick Bond but to no less effect:

Could the outcome end up so poor, so far from the principles and objectives of the Convention, that South Africa would prefer to denounce rather than defend the process?

I’m leaning towards the view that Africa should indeed dump the deal that’s emerging – but then tomorrow is another day.

3:00am GMT: Was there any material shift in the tectonics of the Durban climate talks yesterday? If there was, I suspect it could only be detected by those at the heart of proceedings and then only in mood rather than content.

China’s fan club has cooled off somewhat after the country’s choice of one of the less positive options offered in the draft text’s approach to a legally binding agreement. This puts it on a par with India whose language yesterday was uncompromising.

Later today we face the prospect of Brazil entering the sin bin if its parliament votes the wrong way on the new Forest Code.

If you try very very hard, you can derive something positive from Todd Stern’s press briefing for the US delegation. In the context of the European roadmap to a legally binding agreement, he was asked:

Are you saying that you’re not going to be part of those negotiations between now and 2015 or in the short term?

And in Stern’s convoluted but just about logical way, he said – no, we’re willing to start talking about a process now. Unlike the tough lady from India.

These forensics also uncover something which sounds positive on the Green Climate Fund. You’ll recall our fears that US objections to the pre-conference draft instrument for the fund would force it to be renegotiated. But he said:

here’s an instrument, a document that was negotiated that is, I don’t know, 15 or so pages long. And that’s not going to get reopened. I mean, it’s quite clear at this point that that’s not going to get reopened.

Todd Stern said that the areas for discussion would be addressed in a “covered decision”. That sounds like a preamble. Anyway, the mood on the Green Climate Fund remains cordial.

11:36am GMT: We’ve reached that stage in these annual climate negotiations when the interpretations of what’s going on lose their potency. The NGOs have terrific relations with the workhorse national negotiating teams but, once the ministers arive, the doors slam shut.

You could detect a hint of repetition, as distinct from narrative, in this morning’s press briefing of the Climate Action Network which is the voice of the big global NGOs in Durban.

The most convincing pitch came from Samantha Smith who heads up WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative. She’s unhappy with yesterday’s mood which casts doubt on China’s true intentions torwards Eureopan proposals for commitment to a legally binding agreement.

It’s true that China is making conditions for joining a legally binding agreement. Nonetheless the Chinese have made the first move and that is unprecedenteed. The developed countries must step up.

Samantha Smith also responded to overnight news that Brazil’s parliament has approved the controversial Forest Code. “If this bill stands,” she said, “it will affect the ability of other countries to tackle deforestation. We look to Brazil to take the lead.”

12:26pm GMT: Perhaps I’m wrong about the NGOs not knowing what’s happening during the ministerial stage. Meena Raman knows everything, although I sometimes wonder if her knowledge draws on intuition as much as sources – for someone of such experience, politicians must have a robotic predictability.

Wearing her Friends of the Earth Malaysia hat, Meena Raman spoke at the press briefing just concluded. Her lines are so familiar and yet so pertinent:

We must have a new top down, science-based, equity-based regime for emissions reductions, We will not go along with those who say that we should be pragmatic and accept a “pledge and review” system as better than nothing. No deal is better than a bad deal.

The facilitator of the Friends of the Earth briefing, Bobby Peek of the South African Groundwork NGO, put the same sentiments in a different but telling way: “we must remain firm behind the African position.”

The strength of Meena Raman’s case is that it was agreed by all concerned, even the US, at the Bali conference in 2007. Her anger is directed at the hypocrisy of the US in its forgetfulness and in dragging down the others.

What niggles me a little is this. If the Bali promises can be so lightly extinguished, why do the NGOs set so much store on a new legally binding agreement? Maybe I’m getting tired.

1:18pm GMT: The US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, has just finished his briefing, still suffering from a slight cold. Turn down the aircon!

No questions from Africa but we did see an Indian journalist on his feet, so who knows what tomorrow may bring. Today’s first question was a bit of a shocker:

How many people must die before we reach an agreement?

Apparently this was framed in a press session with the Guatemalan delegation earlier today. Todd Stern said:

I understand what lies behind the question. Climate change is affecting more and more people. It’s imperative for the international process to be as effective as possible. I think we’re all aware of that.

So is that 100,000 or 1,000,000 or 1,000,000,000 more deaths?

The irony is that, if just 100 deaths of US citizens could somehow be pinned unequivocally on climate change, then we would have a legally binding agreement the next day.

The rest of the session was doomed to banality. Mr Stern confirmed that the Green Climate Fund instrument submitted to the conference will stand unchanged but will have a covering brief attached. This is “less than two pages” and maybe “only 2-3 items are still being discussed.”

I think we can safely presume that these items address whether the Fund’s board will answer to the UN climate framework or to those more specialist financial institutions which offer greater comfort to the US. And there’s the issue of private capital leverage.

1:57pm GMT: The European Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, has just finished a press briefing in typically robust style.

But, oh dear, she confessed to some confusion about what the US delegation wants. I thought it was the Chinese who were supposed to be confusing everyone.

Ms Hedegaard was asked about differences on commitments and dates for a legally binding agreement:

The US do not seem to want a legally binding deal. To me it’s a bit unclear what they want. It’s important to us that countries are legally bound when it comes to big problems…..when Gorbachev and Reagan reached agreement to end the cold war they did not pledge voluntarily to reduce their nuclear weapons

Connie doesn’t seem too happy with any suggestion that Europe should be regarded as equals with the US in climate negotiations:

I think that it is a big difference if you’ve had a big increase in emissions since 1990 (about 17%) and if you have on the other hand reduced your emissions (about 17%).

(The inserted figures are mine) The European Commissioner also took exception to the inference that she should be more flexible on the demand to complete an agreement by 2015, to come into force at a later date.

Nothing is cut in stone, but I just think that we are very patient when we say that it should be done at least by 2015. We are not saying tomorrow or next month……but just to postpone it to 2017 or 2018 – I don’t know how you would go home to your brothers and sisters and tell them that. They would say – “what are you talking about?”

I fear that the folks back home are already saying that.

3:37pm GMT: I must apologise for a post on Monday which elevated Mr Tosi Mpanu Mpanu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the office of his country’s environment minister. The incumbent is of course Mr José Endundo Bononge.

In the internet age one’s mistakes are punished horribly – they stare at you out of the search engine results for eternity.

Maybe one day Mr Mpanu Mpanu will find himself in the esteemed position. Then I can be hailed as a prophet. For now, he is the worthy Chair of the African Group of negotiators at the Durban climate talks.

Suitably chastised I can now report on the Africa Group press briefing.

3:57pm GMT: It is fortunate that Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, Chair of the African Group of negotiators at the Durban climate talks is a calm and quietly spoken official. As we all know, and as he outlined in the press briefing recently concluded, his group of 54 countries are not hearing the things they came to this conference to hear.

Mpanu Mpanu singled out the European Union for his toughest words. The Africans see the EU as imposing conditions for championing a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, where in fact it has obligations to renew the Protocol under the Bali Action Plan (2007). As Mpanu Mpanu put it:

We see the Bali roadmap but they want a new roadmap. We don’t feel comfortable going into this new territory.

He went on to observe:

Today in Africa we are suffering, in part because of climate change. In Europe you’re not suffering. But if you don’t do much in Durban your children will suffer and they are not used to suffering.

The African Group clearly feels it has justice on its side in demanding that the three big agenda items under discussion in Durban should be tackled in the correct order. First, the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol, second, the provision of real scaled-up finance for developing countries, and only then to start worrying about legally binding agreements.

Synchronised with this briefing, the African Group issued a press release retating their demands. There’s no sign of compromise and we’re almost down to the last 48 hours.

5:13pm GMT: In the press briefing, Dr Eduardo Assad, Brazil’s climate change secretary, answered the inevitable question about the controversial forest code bill passed in the Brazilian Senate last night.

Actually he didn’t answer the question – which referred to the opinion of Marina Silva, Brazil’s former environment minsiter, that approval of the code would make it very difficult to meet the country’s target for carbon dioxide emissions.

Assad made two points. First, he claimed that Brazil will achieve 60% of its pledges made after Copenhagen (2009) by 2012. Second, he said that the bill will not become law until it gets through the lower house of parliament and then the president herself.

A question via Twitter added evidence that the micro-blogosphere is one step ahead of our political rulers. The question alluded to rumours that Japan has proposed a new working group to replace the current Kyoto Protocol group within the UN process. Brazil’s lead climate negotiator, Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, was forced to admit that he knew nothing about this.

He did however offer his philosophy on the endgame of the climate talks:

I usually say that on Wednesday things are a little bit shaky. Tomorrow they will be worse – people will say that it won’t work. Then in the end they do work.

Keep checking into our coverage and you’ll find out.

6:06pm GMT: I’ve had a quick look at the media briefing of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, a coalition of African NGOs giving voice to the people of the continent most affected by global warming.

It’s interesting to compare the Alliance’s position on the Durban talks with that of the formal African Group of negotiators, reported here earlier today. Both groups see betrayal on the part of developed countries in their joint amnesia for the Bali Action Plan, signed up under UN auspices at the 2007 climate conference.

As you’d expect, the NGOs express their frustration in more exotic language and PACJA has issued a strongly worded press release setting out its position.

As Augustine Njamushi, spokesman for PACJA, put it:

You cannot describe this as the African COP (Conference of Parties) unless the results are meeting the needs of the African people. For now, its’ a COP taking place in Africa

His PACJA colleague, Michele Maynard, said:

in essence what they want is a blank cheque to carry on doing nothing….we’ve seen no movement at all when it comes to emissions reduction. We need deep emission cuts now, not in 2020.

What no one asked is ….how close are we to the point when African countries will walk out and collapse the talks?


this post was first published by OneWorld UK