Good COP: Bad COP in Durban

A quick survey of those whose reputations slithered upwards or downwards in the cauldron of the recent Durban climate talks, otherwise known as COP17:

Good COP

UN Drama Department – when climate change is finally recognised as a global emergency, these disastrously deadlocked annual UN conferences will be scrutinised by historians, the political choreography recreated for stage and screen.

The Durban COP has no need to await the skills of a future dramatist. It had everything – gesticulating scientists, threat of an African uprising, political treachery, a cliffhanging conclusion, not to speak of the portentous deluge before it all started. The UN needs only edit its footage back to a couple of hours and dispatch it to the Academy Awards Committee.

In addition to best film, there will be a nomination for Karl Hood of Grenada for framing the tragedy of small islands in the language of Othello. And the third Oscar goes to the backroom camera editing team, presumably from the Durban Convention Centre, whose masterly timing in the big plenary sessions displayed an improbable sensitivity for the incomprehensible business in hand.

Stockholm Environment Institute – in the opening days, an obscure July report by the SEI was waved about by the influential figure of Martin Khor of the South Centre. By the conclusion it was cited by ministers from developing countries at the slightest hint of trouble. I hope that the Institute can repeat this trick with another latent time-bomb report it has published on the subject of inequitable growth assumptions in climate models.

Kumi Naidoo – the executive director of Greenpeace flourished in his home town, hanging climate change on the peg of the fight against apartheid in which he was involved as a young man. Naidoo’s features today have become more taut, giving him a wild look of saturnine menace. He should relocate Greenpeace to Kinshasa, withdraw from regular public view and terrify the western world through the cult kingdom of an ecological Prester John.

Angie Vanessita – I’m not even sure if this is the artist’s correct name but her catchy swaying design of a banner produced for the Oilwatch campaign group captured the African spirit. It was adopted by the Occupy COP17 protesters and popped up everywhere.

Alden Meyer – the director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists took the title of soundbite master, deposing the more professorial Martin Khor and Saleemul Huq. The invaluable NGO service of interpreting what’s going on inside the negotiating rooms was acknowledged by BBC environment correspondent, Richard Black, in his weekend summary. Meyer gave a masterly preview in the opening press conference and his OneClimate interview during the chaos of the closing stages matched it for fluency, despite eyes almost closed with tiredness.

Bishop Geoff Davies – it took a South African cleric to get right to the heart of the problem and speak to the American people in language that they understand. Hellfire and brimstone await those who emit.


Humanity – whilst the NGOs have rightly condemned the spineless outcome as a disaster for poor and vulnerable countries, they’re forgetting about globalisation. Watch the clip of the Friends of the Earth International chair in Friday’s press briefing. If the 900 million people of sub-Saharan Africa become half as angry about climate justice as Nnimmo Bassey, the lead personnel of the US presidential election will change overnight.

BASIC group – we had been told that fresh unity between India, China, South Africa and Brazil would tilt the political dynamics of climate negotiations. The group even held a press conference together in Durban. But India was well and truly strung up, having failed lesson one which is not to state your position too explicitly – minister Jayanthi Natarajan perhaps short on experience at this level. The anger of her closing speech may have been addressed at herself as much as for the benefit of voters back home. I suspect the customary pre-COP BASIC meeting may be quietly dropped next year.

NGOs – the big environmental campaign groups are thrashing about like the beached whales they are rather more adept at saving than the climate. The succession of financial calamities in North America and Europe should be the calling card for radical green economics – but there aren’t any in the filing cabinet, despite the lure of Rio+20.

Side Events – I must have received about 1,000 invitations to peripheral events, of which a significant proportion were seriously relevant to my work. That’s exactly the problem – these events are a monumental distraction to the business of the conference. The UN should find a way to banish the circus to the more appropriate world of virtual meetings and zero emissions.

Guardian – visitors to the world’s most impressive big media coverage of climate change issues were greeted with a banner advertisement for Shell, one of the world’s most impressive big oil polluters. The Guardian would doubtless borrow the standard defence adopted by shady politicians – “we’re not doing anything wrong.” Indeed, but please think harder about the sense of despair that such blinkered capitulation induces in your most loyal customers.

Qatar – I reckon the award of the 2012 COP may turn out to be a poisoned chalice. At a press briefing on the day after the announcement, I listened to Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. To suggest that she has embarked on a warpath for Doha would be putting it mildly. Burrow’s charge sheet has more to do with government abuse of labour rights than the milder offence of astronomic per capita emissions. If I was the Qatari minister for foreign affairs, I might be contemplating a sabbatical.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK