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Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May's picture
Elizabeth May is the Leader of the Green Party of Canada and one of our country’s most respected environmentalists. She is a prominent lawyer, an author, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a loving mother and grandmother.

UN climate conference finishes with a limp

| November 26, 2013
Image: wikipedia commons

I am writing this from the Warsaw airport in the wee hours of almost Saturday morning.  I left the ADP interactive process after 3 a.m. when the co-chairs adjourned, sending the weary negotiators away for a few hours rest, while the co-chairs and their team prepare a new text. This will be the 5th version. Negotiators, some remaining cool as a cucumber, others emotional and angry as the COP seems destined to under-deliver against the low expectations that awaited it two weeks ago, have been increasingly fractious. The usual diplomatic niceties have occasionally fallen away.

Even one of the most polished and old school diplomats, representing a developing country, made a searing comment as the talks went on -- and on. He pointed out that the "context of this COP must be acknowledged and that context is backsliding by developed countries; reneging of commitments that were legally undertaken. There has been a total abdication of leadership by developed countries. The irony of discussing a new treaty, with legally binding commitments, in the context of countries violating previous legally binding commitments raises questions to the credibility of this process."

Yes, it does. Other delegates from the global south became even more impassioned, expressing out loud their distrust of the industrialized country governments.

One of the more amazing things about the multilateral system is the discipline of diplomats. The super-human effort required, particularly for countries with small teams of negotiators to keep going -- on little or no sleep, for days on end. And to continue to talk even when those who understand the science and know their country is at risk of more loss of life, of losing years of progress in development, have to continue to make nice across the table with those nations that could do something about it, but don't.

This COP had the added disadvantage that there was no food available in the stadium after about nine at night. (No problem for me since I fasted while in Warsaw in solidarity with Yeb Sano of the Philippines.) One delegate complained that it must violate the UN Charter of Human rights to work people in this fashion.

Friday started for me with a closed meeting of the G77 and China. I have been attending all week. The incredible opportunity to attend these meetings as a member of the Afghanistan delegation was something I had not imagined when I volunteered to help. If I had turned my mind to it at all, I would have expected to be kept out of those rooms. I thought my role was only to prepare policy advice, assist with the High Level speech, and to stay on top of sessions where no one from the Afghanistan government had the ability to attend. That I would be given the rare chance for a Canadian to witness the internal consultations of this huge and fascinating negotiating group was an extraordinary opportunity.

The cohesion of the group is astonishing as it contains the poorest of the poor (the LDC, Least Developed Countries Group), the African Bloc, AOSIS (the Alliance of low lying Island States), as well as China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brazil and India -- over 130 nations in all. Their different circumstances and perspectives lead to different positions on many issues, but the functioning of the group under the gavel of the Chair, this year from Fiji, the courtesy and respect, was impressive.  The closing session Friday morning ended with an emotional statement of appreciation for the support and solidarity of the group from the Philippine delegation, met with prolonged applause.

From there, the rest of the day is a blur. Most of the time I was in the ADP interactive, but when the chairs adjourned for a few hours to allow for some rest, I went to track what was going on in Finance and Loss and Damage -- two different interactive groups both led by co-chairs (the UN tradition is to have each contact group or side negotiation be led by co-chairs, one from the industrialized world and one from a developing country.)

In none of the groups was the work anywhere near finished. New texts were announced, first as the chairs explained what they had hoped to capture in common ground -- always admitting it was far short of what was required and of what delegations wanted, but asking, almost begging, for a spirit of good will and compromise.

After the short review of a text no one had yet seen, it was made available hard copy at the side of the room (only in English). All delegates would stampede to grab the text and start the process of detailed review of old text versus new, tallying up whether ground was lost or gained, in order to prepare positions once the sessions resumed.

The over-riding sense of the day was "we cannot leave Warsaw with nothing to show for two weeks of negotiating. We must have, at least, a work plan to go forward to 2014, its additional meetings and COP 20 in Lima."

The ADP group broke down at around 11 p.m. when there was an emotional outburst from Venezuela condemning the European Union for trying to control the process. That led to the co-chairs deciding on a break for people to try to sort out some compromise. 

It is almost impossible to believe, but the next phase was a two-and-a-half hour "huddle." Thirty or so country representatives literally had to stand in a corner of the room, pressed up against each other, (some complained that it got hot and fairly malodorous as they had to stay rather close to hear what was being said) to negotiate a compromise. One woman delegate from a developing country complained the process excluded her country because she was too short to hear what was going on in the middle. Canada's Ambassador on Climate Dan McDougall was one of those in the huddle and while I deplore his negotiating instructions, I sympathize with the physical toll that this whole process takes on everyone (although clearly, wealthy countries with big delegations, Canada's was over 50 people, are in a much better position to work in shifts and get some breaks). While the huddle went on in the corner, delegates mostly milled around the room.

By about two in the morning the huddle had completed its efforts to come up with new language for paragraph 2(b) and 2 (c.). The chairs resumed the formal meeting (which also, by the way always took place without benefit of translators so everything was English only). 

And that brings me to where I started this blog. I left at 3:30 in the morning for the airport. There was no clear indication when I left of whether any text was approved, in any area of negotiation. The likelihood is that a few hours from now COP19 will limp to an ignominious finish line. No one is likely to cheer from the sidelines.

This blog entry was originally published at The Green Party of Canada.

Image: wikipedia commons

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Comments

Was that my MP in Warsaw?  Did we pay her wages to go there?

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