‘Saving tomorrow, tomorrow’

2011-12-05 00:00

“IF the prime minister of Ethiopia is the best thing they can come up with in terms of seniority then this is becoming a non-event.”

That was the opinion one delegate expressed on the eve of the second week of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP17 that is taking place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban.

This week sees the “High Level Segment” of the conference when heads of states and government ministers arrive — the people who make the decisions. Over two days they will each present brief statements on their countries’ positions. Meles Zenawi, Ethiopian prime minister kicks off proceedings tomorrow, followed by Gabon president, Ali Bongo Ondimba.

There are no European prime ministers coming (other than Prince Albert II of Monaco), no American president, and not one head of state from China. In other words, none of the big hitters — make that big emitters — are going to show.

True, in this day and age of hi-speed, hi-tech communications the power brokers can be contacted immediately for necessary decisions, but these no-shows add up to, if not a display of near total indifference, at the very least a vote of no-confidence in COP17, plus a diplomatic and political snub to the host country, South Africa.

However, in public at least, brave faces were on show over the weekend, which saw delegates poring over amalgamated draft texts “in preparation of a comprehensive and balanced outcome to be presented to the Conference of the Parties for adoption at its seventeenth session”.

It’s hoped a final text will be ready by Wednesday to provide a negotiating document for the ministers.

One of those brave faces belonged to Christina Figueres, executive secretary, Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), who is still upbeat about what can be achieved in the coming week.

She believes the door is still open for much of the oft-repeated COP17 shopping list: operationalising decisions made at Cancun’s COP16, including a Technology Mechanism to promote clean energy and adaptation-related technologies; an Adaptation Framework to coordinate international cooperation and technology transfer to help developing countries better protect themselves from climate change impacts, and an end to the design phase of the Green Climate Fund. And, of course, a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.

The latter is highly unlikely. Prior to COP17 Canada, Russia and Japan have said they won’t sign up for a second round, though at the conference there is an insistence that they are still in negotiation. The U.S., not having ratified the Kyoto Protocol is not even party to the discussions.

Meanwhile the European Union buys into a second commitment on condition it is part of the EU presented roadmap leading to a legally binding agreement by 2015. Put another way: play the game by our rules or we won’t play with you.

The U.S. say they will entertain an agreement that everybody signs up for, especially China, but the indications are that the U.S. want to delay any decision until after 2020.

The EU and the G77 countries and China have been talking and have said they have clarity on their positions. Clarity is not agreement.

Talking about what COP17 might deliver Jonathan Pershing, U.S. lead negotiator for the first week, observed that, “ If you demand more than the politics can deliver you don’t succeed.” Sounds like the perfect recipe for failure. By the end of the week COP17’s slogan catch phrase “Saving tomorrow today” could well be “Saving tomorrow tomorrow”.

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