Reports of our progress have been greatly exaggerated (COP 15)

16 Dec 2009Gary Kendall

Together with all of my fellow non-governmental observers – despite securing a tertiary pass via the BINGO (Business & Industry NGO) constituency for plenary access all day today – I’ve been locked out of the high-level segment of COP/MOP in Plenary I since Hugo Chávez left the podium to rapturous applause a little more than an hour ago. The next part of the session includes interventions from our very own Gordon Brown and the incorrigible Robert Mugabe, so I’m quite disappointed to be outside in the holding area following via the weblink. The atmosphere inside the auditorium has been electrifying, as Heads of State from countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Tuvalu, Grenada, and Senegal presented their views on the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. It is fair to say that – together with the President of Venezuela – they were unanimously disparaging about the progress made so far. I am staggered at how far apart the developed and developing countries remain, considering we are officially just two and a half days away from the close of COP 15.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) – together representing more than 100 countries – again stated their position on “max 1.5°C”, which looks a very forlorn hope. Apparently, in the early hours of this morning in the AWG-LCA Plenary, Bolivia called for “no more than 1°C”, which frankly seems absurd at this stage, but serves to remind us that some of the world’s nations – especially those dependent on predictable glacial melt water for their survival – are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and are unafraid to say so.

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal was particularly impressive as he spoke of Africa’s Great Green Wall, a 15km wide barrier of vegetation being cultivated across the breadth of the African continent from Dhaka in the west to Djibouti in the east. It’s a project of mind-blowing ambition that attempts to halt the advancing Sahara Desert, so far with little assistance from rich countries according to President Wade. With great eloquence, he spoke of a catalogue of broken promises, not just at the climate talks but in various international fora for several decades. From now on, whenever I am challenged with “OK, I get mitigation, but what is adaptation all about?”, I will hold up Africa’s Great Green Wall as an example of “managing the unavoidable”.

Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren – speaking on behalf of the European Union – restated the firm commitment of the bloc’s 27 Member States to keep warming “well below 2°C”, with a long-term target of “up to 95%” reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. Businesses take note: this equates no less than a complete decarbonisation of the EU’s energy system within 40 years. He went on to reiterate the conditional pledge to reduce emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 IF other countries adopt similar binding targets. This remains Europe’s strongest negotiating lever, though it still puzzles me greatly that minus 30% is not – according to the IPCC – sufficient to avoid breaching the 2°C threshold.

Perhaps the most shocking episode of the whole three-hour session came just before Chávez’s appearance: two activists somehow managed to clamber onto the stage, from where they shouted various slogans along the lines of “Climate justice now!”, and “Climate Change is really dangerous”. How they managed this is anyone’s guess, but does not augur well for Obama’s visit (assuming he comes). After what seemed like an eternity, a single blue-shirted UN guard gracefully invited them to leave the platform, as they continued to generate quite a racket. And, I suspect, the organisers rubbed their hands at the perfect excuse to exclude us from the session that is currently under way.

It could be worse – as I sit here, the thousands locked outside the Bella Center are being treated to tear gas from the hair-trigger Danish police.

PS – I submitted some excerpts from SustainAbility’s blog to a paronomasia competition in the hope that one of our ten word plays would win the first prize. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

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