Finding the plot at COP15

Blog by
11 December 2009

Arriving at any big event in midflow is always disorienting: the play has begun and you’ve come in right after the interval. And piecing together the plot of this year’s climate talks in Copenhagen, COP15, is a challenge.

This is convoluted stuff of high drama — both behind the scenes and, in more than a few instances, centre stage. But then, this is an unprecedented issue, and one we have only lived with consciously for two decades.

The tensions between rich and poor countries have dominated from the start. Climate justice is, Southern nations say, the elephant in the room: they want the North’s responsibility for historical emissions to be named, shamed and worked into the deal.

Not least because, as the recent impassioned protest by campaigners from the drowning island of Tuvalu showed, many Southern countries are bearing the burdens of someone else’s industrialisation.

A number of Northern nations are meanwhile demanding bigger cuts from emergent economies like China and Brazil—while deflecting criticism of how they pitch their own promises.

Before the COP even began, a slew of leaked emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were circulated as alleged ‘proof’ that climate science is less than robust.

An even bigger leak then threatened to swamp the proceedings. The so-called ‘Danish text’, an informal consultation document said to involve the Danes, US and UK, was accused of failing to take account of climate justice (although it did posit a US$10 billion yearly pot for helping developing nations cope with climate change).

And late on the night of 10 December, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aiping, representative of the Group of 77 or G77 and chief negotiator for 134 nations, walked out of a consultation with UN representatives. This may not be the first time the stage door slams.

Few are confident that a successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be forged this December. Climate scientist Jim Hansen stated categorically in the Guardian some days ago that any agreement would lack the necessary teeth.

An audience of billions is watching the proceedings unfold with hope and fear. Can we — the 188 nations that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — agree on a solution to human-driven climate change that is fair and effective? Will the 100-odd world leaders landing in Copenhagen on the 18th tip the balance?

The issue at hand is overwhelmingly vast and complex and the time squeeze severe. Will this be comedy, tragedy, farce — or a drama with the happy, even visionary, ending the world needs?


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