Climate talks at Barcelona: All the skulduggery in the open


What do you do with a problem like the US? Hundreds of NGOs in Barcelona are thoroughly split, with many of the conservative US-based ones saying that the US negotiating team is doing as well it possibly can given its hands are tied by delays in the senate. But a growing number are furious at suggestions a special case be made for the country that emits 20 per cent of the world’s emissions yet is only proposing to cut a paltry seven per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Any deal at Copenhagen would be a good deal, says the former group.

This allows the coal industry to hold the world to ransom and NGOs are actually weakening the US negotiator’s hand. Without wanting to blunder into a domestic row, outsiders ask whether the NGOs would be so accommodating to the US if it had George W as president. Meanwhile, the lack of a coherent US civil society voice is starting to dismay the Europeans, south Americans and Asians.

Connie Hedegaard’s opening speech at the climate talks was well received, but sadly the Danish environment minister who will host the final negotiations in Copenhagen left a copy of the speech lying around, and it showed what had been cut out. Connie intended to say “we are aiming for a binding political agreement,” but mysteriously dropped the word political at the last minute. Tellingly, she also removed a sentence which ran: “Honestly, who believes anyone’s pledges will improve by a few months’ postponement of a deal?”

The proposed forest deal has sunk deep in a quagmire of diplomatic language. It seems that even the most experienced negotiator is confused by the latest proposal which is for a new ‘non paper’ to be produced to supercede another ‘non paper.’ But is this an ‘open non paper’ or a ‘closed non paper?’ Nobody knows.

If Norway and Scotland can claim to have the most ambitious emissions-cutting proposals of any rich countries, then Canada is the near unanimous choice of observers here as the worst nation by a mile. We all know it plans paltry emission cuts of just three per cent on 1990 levels, that it has the highest greenhouse gas growth in the world and it plans to dig up thousands of square miles to develop tar sands, the dirtiest fuel in the world.

But it has now bunged in a proposal to exploit a loophole which would allow it to reduce emissions compared with what it might emit one day in the future! This sounds complicated but it comes under a little understood part of the talks called ‘Lulucf,’ which covers land use changes of areas such as forests. It’s basically a fraud.

If Canada can ‘prove’ that it has emissions lower than what it projected it might, then it will be allowed to claim carbon credits for these, even if its overall emissions actually increase. That’s the level of skulduggery by so called green countries here.

Saudi Arabia has brought a big, skilled, experienced delegation and it probably needs one to soak up all the flak it is getting from NGOs. Yesterday, groups from Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, and 10 other countries accused it of using wrecking tactics to prevent a deal which would hurt its oil interests.

“They have tried to remove language that would support vulnerable countries; they delayed progress on adaptation discussions; and they have been the only country to say that there is no need to agree on a numerical global goal for emission reduction,” says an aggrieved observer.

To rub salt in, Saudi diplomats complained that the richest, most-polluting oil rich nation in the world was being asked to pay more than its fair share in the proposed deal.

Weeks back in Bankok, a British negotiator deliberately removed language from a proposed forest agreement that would have specifically protected intact natural forests. Rumours persisted that the EU had been bought by the loggers and it seemed strange that even when 25 countries complained, the EU still declined to put the words back in.

Eventually, the EU admitted a mistake had been made, said the official had been ‘slapped’ on the face and promised the safeguards would be reinstated. But three days on, and with just two days left before the end of the last talks before Copenhagen, the words are still not there.

Good to see Shell, one of the world’s dirtiest companies, preparing for Copenhagen. On arrival at the Danish capital’s airport, the first sign the 17,000 delegates will see is a Shell ad saying “what the world needs is a low carbon future.”

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