Postcard from Bangkok

By Gareth Renowden 30/09/2009

This is a guest blog from Oxfam NZ’s executive director Barry Coates, in Bangkok for the latest round of negotiations in the run-up to Copenhagen. Barry sets the scene:

Tcktcktck. The clock counts down to the deadline for climate change negotiations. Not to achieve an agreement is unthinkable. It was good last week to hear the speeches of heads of state at the UN meeting in New York saying how committed they are to a deal. But the key question is how. It is not easy to negotiate a hugely important global deal amongst 192 countries. And especially since climate science demands that there be a dramatic transformation of economic activity worldwide.

That’s the scene setting for UN negotiations on climate change that started yesterday in Bangkok. There are 15 days of negotiations before the Copenhagen conference and hundreds of pages of densely typed documents. The challenge? Distill it all down to about 30 pages, agree on some of the key issues and avoid a massive greenwash.

The past 24 hours shows how hard this will be. The opening was, as usual, marked by fine sounding speeches. My favourite was the Thai Prime Minister saying there is no Plan B, only Plan F where ‘f’ is for fail.

But even before the day had ended the good vibes had been replaced by a fight between the US (supported by other rich countries) and India (supported by most of the developing countries). The issue is whether the developing countries need to take on legally binding obligations or whether they have obligations that are different to those of the rich countries (as is provided for in the mandate for these negotiations agreed in Bali almost two years ago).

The lines are drawn tightly in these negotiations. Most of the dynamic is between the two blocs, ignoring the fundamental point that we will all be in deep trouble if there is no global agreement. The casualty is trust and cooperation.

So not much progress yet. I am a part of the Oxfam delegation here, working both inside and outside the convention centre. I must say that the real fun is happening amongst the myriad of groups who have joined in the tcktcktck coalition across South-East Asia. I am also on the board of the tcktcktck campaign so it’s great to be joining with activists from across the region.

It’s not all bad though. I had time to walk through the Bangkok markets near our high rise hotel. It’s a great grounding in the high levels of poverty that exists in this society. And in the vulnerability to climate change that has just struck hard in Manila. The images of people’s lives being devastated in the Philippines has been a really useful reminder of the humanity behind the negotiations. If these negotiations don’t work, there will be many millions more suffering under climate change in the future.