COP17 Durban UN climate talks Nov 29

1:56am GMT: At this early stage of the climate talks, it’s hard to judge the force of grassroots activism that exists beyond the confines of the formal conference centre.

Before the event, Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, observed that Durban has strong activist traditions dating back to the apartheid era.

SABC News offers a full story on the climate refugee camp which is being set up for South African activists travelling from outside Durban for Saturday’s Day of Action. According to the report:

although the camp will not be made of actual refugees, the idea is to indicate that the climate predicament is already affecting people on the ground, with inconsistent weather patterns already wreaking havoc

Elsewhere the Occupy COP17 movement held its first assembly today, reported almost verbatim on the Durban Climate Justice site.

Excellent photos here provide evidence of support from (the high profile campaign group led by Bill McKibben), Patrick Bond (professor of development studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Pablo Solon (former lead negotiator for Bolivia).

So many people with Pablo’s experience would have spun the revolving door and joined a business consultancy to advise on the price of carbon over glasses of South Africa’s excellent champagne. Instead he’s hanging out with young activists, giving interviews to OneClimate:

I think the hope is coming from the people. The only way we can change the course of the negotiations is if there is social pressure…. I think the hope is in the movement of Occupy Wall Street

That sort of quote is not exactly going to set Pablo’s phone humming with calls from New York the headhunters.

2:23am GMT: Monday is the day after the weekend, when everyone writes their opinion pieces. The result is a wall of content which tells little of what actually happened on Monday.

Easily the best of these reflections is Richard Calland’s column in the Mail&Guardian which precisely depicts the tortuous balancing act that South Africa must play in these negotiations. As he puts it:

COP17 represents the biggest test for South Africa’s diplomatic and process skills since 1994: it is the diplomatic equal of the World Cup

Elsewhere, the Guardian offers the 999th preview of the talks, but it’s a good one by Praful Bidwai, dissecting the political dynamics between various groups of countries.

In the search for hard news, Reuters pinned down some quotes from the Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent. But he refused to confirm or deny the story that Canada is about to give notice to quit the Kyoto Protocol.

Today could be busy for the subject of deforestation. The Brazilian upper house is due to vote on the controversial forest code legislation sometime in the next 48 hours. And in one of Durban’s press conferences, the Global Forest Coalition will be comparing UN REDD proposals on reducing emissions from deforestation with Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

11:45am GMT: Climate Action Network, the NGO umbrella group, has just completed its daily press briefing. Two points came across for me.

Firstly that we’re going to hear a lot of argument about timescales of 5 years or 8 years. This refers to the gap between 2012 (when the current emissions reduction regime expires) and a future deadline for starting a new treaty covering all countries.

(obviously there shouldn’t be any gap, but that’s how we treat the planet)

The gap could be filled by a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, covering a small number of countries led by the European Union. We don’t know how much resolve the EU will summon to bang heads together to make this happen. And we don’t know whether it will hang its hat on 2017 or 2020.

Tove Ryding from Greenpeace said:

What the EU decides for this commitment period is really crucial. It affects whether we have an entire regime up and running in 5 or 8 years.

Those of us living through the European currency shambles may be forgiven for concern that such calls for political leadership are destined for disappointment.

The second point from the CAN session concerns Canada’s decision (still unconfirmed) to give notice to quit the Kyoto Protocol forthwith. Now that the NGOs have had a chance to sleep on the emotive turmoil aroused by anything Canada does, they have calmed down a little.

The practical and technical implications of withdrawing from a treaty which Canada has anyway flaunted for years, are not substantive. But it’s the breach of good diplomatic manners that will upset not just campaigners but the broader political community. As Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid put it:

We want parties to come here in good faith. In the case of Canada this is not happening.

The whole point of negotiations is to attempt to reach agreement, however deep the divisions. The arrival of the Canadian minister next week could liven up proceedings.

1:09pm GMT: Brazil is emerging as a key floating voter on all these questions about timelines, roadmaps and commitment. So I checked out last night’s press conference with the head of the Brazilian delegation, Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago.

Inevitably, he dodged the question about timescales for a potential long term agreement binding Brazil to its pledges for emissions reduction. He said the matter is being “studied” within the G77+China group of which Brazil is part.

But Mr Corrêa do Lago was far more revealing in his thoughts about the implications of economic crisis for the negotiations. I’ll come back to these; South Africa, another key BASIC country, has just started a press conference.

2:17pm GMT: I had to wait until the 39th minute of the 40-minute press briefing by the South African delegation before the subject of the European Union roadmap was addressed.

The EU is offering to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive with a second period of binding emission reductions provided that all non-Kyoto countries commit to a timescale for the big treaty we all want. Is South Africa ready to agree a date from which its pledges on emissions become legal commitments?

“I do believe it’s a good roadmap,” said Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister. Indeed, she said that three times, once for each of no fewer than three negotiating groups that South Africa associates with – the Africa Group, G77+China Group and the BASIC countries (with Brazil, China and India).

The Europeans know that this proliferation of groups bouncing off each other makes for slippery customers. And that’s before you have to deal with the big ones individually.

Minister Molewa said: “we have to deal with the conditionalities linked to the roadmap.” She announced that Brazil and Argentina have been tasked with finding solutions (an unusual choice of soulmates?).

So we’re none the wiser on 2017 or 2020. But I detect that the minister is from the school of negotiations that brushes aside obstacles, rather than procrastinating. When questioned about the problems facing the Green Climate Fund, Molewa said: “we have sufficient consensus to take us forward,” not mentioning the American objections.

That’s not how UN climate talks traditionally progress. But then they never do progress so let’s go with the host flow for now.

3:47pm GMT: Is there life after Pablo Solon for the ALBA group of countries (Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominica)? Remember those press briefings at the fag-end of a meandering round of climate talks when the former negotiator for Bolivia would sit alone on the platform declaiming the global injustice of climate change?

We’ll miss him but his departure may reinvigorate the capacity of the group as a whole to make a difference or, as some would say, to make mischief. And the chief mischief-maker, Claudia Salerno of Venezuela, remains at large to glare into submission any recalcitrance from the grail of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Today ALBA fielded an impressive panel of English-speaking negotiators more than capable or reproducing the dignified passion of Mr Solon.

The new Bolivian negotiator, Rene Orellana, simply pointed to the recent UNEP report on gigatonne gaps. He interprets it quite reasonably as a warning that continued inaction on emissions to 2020 is tantamount to losing the fight against climate change.

Tomorrow sees the start of negotiations on the Green Climate Fund. The ALBA speakers were tight-lipped on the suggestion that they will impede progress. But it’s pretty clear that they have things to say which others will not want to hear.

The ALBA Group is not finished yet.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK