Behind the scenes in Copenhagen: 2

By Gareth Renowden 16/12/2009

As the Copenhagen conference moves into its final phase, heads of state turning up and negotiations seemingly stalled, Oxfam NZ’s executive director Barry Coates provides another insight into what’s going on behind the scenes. Barry’s daily updates are posted at Oxfam’s web site and also at Pacific Scoop.

December 15 — Copenhagen: Looking for a breakthrough

Building a house without the foundations

On one of the last days of the talks, we were looking for a breakthrough. I am sorry if anyone read my blog last night. It was written with waves of sleep washing over and my eyes largely closed. Then I started the day with my own personal breakthrough — I finally got time to do my laundry. I enjoyed my one hour off over the last 9 days and then it was back to work.

We did a press release on the state of the negotiations after receiving the almost final versions of the outcome of two years of negotiations. The line was that the politicians ducked the tough issues two years ago and agreed only a really broad and vague mandate. It is little surprise that the negotiators have flailed around trying to agree a deal. It is like trying to build a house but without having prepared the foundations.

Framework for finance

The main issue that Oxfam has been focusing on is the right kind of framework for finance. Most attention goes on the amount of money needed, but some of the really important elements are in the framework. This includes additionality — whether governments will just take money from the aid budget and re-badge it as climate finance; also how the funds will be spent — whether through the World Bank and its sidekick, the Global Environment Facility, or as Oxfam is pressing for, through the new Adaptation Fund that has balanced governance, transparency and sound accountability.

And funding has to be predictable rather than trying to convince Ministers of Finance to vote it through (which they are never going to do) — that means levies on air travel and shipping fuels (which currently get away without being taxed) or taxes on pollution permits. These are the building blocks that can provide funding for vulnerable people to protect their communities and adapt to climate change, as well as support to leverage big emissions reductions in developing countries.

Restrictions and receptions

Today there were restrictions on non-government organisations getting into the convention centre, cutting down numbers by two-thirds to 7000 NGO representatives. It will get much tougher on Thursday — down to 1000. Then by Friday it will be around 300 on current plans. NGOs are complaining vociferously, especially since the UN climate change talks have been one of the forums that have been more open to NGO scrutiny and accountability.

I went to drinks with the New Zealand delegation last night. The highlight was the youth delegation presenting a spinnaker signed by hundreds of young people, accompanied by a great speech. It was carried off powerfully and with great dignity.

In defense of Africa

I talked with the [Press] journalist, David Williams, just as he was leaving the reception. He said he had just done an interview with the Minister for Climate Change Negotiations, Tim Groser, where the Minister had been very condemnatory of developing countries on the dynamics of the negotiations.

When I had met with him earlier in the day, I had said that this was not our experience of the negotiations and the Africa group (and the small island states last week) had insisted that there be a fair process. The real problem lay with the rich nations who had not come with decent negotiating proposals and had tried to evade their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and their negotiating mandate, the Bali Action Plan. In our press release, we said that the Africa group had pulled the emergency cord on the train that was headed for a wreck, a very different perspective from Tim Groser.

When it came out, the article contained comments against the Africa group that were even more harsh than I had thought. The reaction from the conference centre was sharp. There is real concern that the perception seems to really misunderstand the process and such criticism is unhelpful to achieving the agreement that we all need. The characterisation of the EU and US as calm and constructive while the African countries are the wreckers is a misreading of the situation.

No more excuses; the time is now

As I complete this blog (after midnight again!), the closing plenary sessions are underway. They are running half a day late, and were concluded not with a bang and a celebration, but with a whimper. Little progress has been made over the past two years and the big issues are all shunted off to the Ministers. We have a very long way to go to complete the deal and time is really running out. It is worth pushing hard to secure agreement even if there is not sufficient political will, because tight negotiating parameters will be needed to conclude a treaty early in 2010.

The message we are sending is ‘no more excuses; the time is now’.