It’s day five of the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen and we seem to be reading the script from back to front.
The week began with what will likely be our only Kumbaya moment. Monday was a high-energy love fest fueled by positive thinking, rising expectations from a string of announcements about head of states’ attendance plans, a weeks-long international public relations effort to reframe failure as success, genuine good intentions, and an incredible welcome from Copenhagen. The day was capped off with a free rock concert downtown.
On day two, we began to slip backwards into a collection of struggles. The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was accused of engaging in WTO-style “green room” tactics, a reference to the WTO decision-making practice of framing important decisions in closed meetings with powerful nations. Rasmussen apparently produced a “secret” negotiating text and discussed it extensively with G20 nations, but hardly at all with countries outside that circle.
On day three, another obstacle emerged, as Tuvalu insisted that its six-month old proposal to adopt a more strigent set of climate change measures be discussed prior to any other business. Tuvalu, a small island state that may soon cease to exist as a result of rising seas produced by climate change, legitimately regards the current negotiations as a life or death matter and is unwilling to sign a death warrant for itself. Plenary sessions in that portion of the talks were suspended in favor of private informal sessions (the type of session that actually gets most of the work done) to figure out what to do. China and India spoke against the Tuvalu proposal, and Western press was quick to interpret that as a division within the previously solid G77 and China negotiating block.
Day four consisted of mostly private informal sessions and working groups with no significant progress announced and lots of evidence of deteriorating negotiations. The Sudanese head of the G77 and China negotiating group, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, walked out of a COP15 meeting and told reporters “things are not going well.”
And now here we are, in the midst of day five, with the feel good story of all time running in reverse. I just left a G77 and China briefing for NGOs conducted by Di-Aping and it is very clear that the situation is still not good. Di-Aping ripped into Western NGOs saying that “you have become an instrument of your governments” and a “tool of a small group of industrialists”. His target was the mainstream, “big green” environmental organizations in the United States who have been supportive of weak domestic U.S. climate legislation. That legislation has in turn become the basis for the U.S. negotiating position here in Copenhagen.
It will be very interesting to see what happens over the next several days. A series of large demonstrations are planned beginning tomorrow. There will be at least one major action per day continuing through next Wednesday. The common theme running through them all is climate justice; climate chaos cannot be addressed within a system that is so grievously inequitable. That is also the basic rupture inside the Bella Center, where the Copenhagen Climate Conference is being held.
It is quite possible that by next Wednesday, the last day of the high level portion of this conference, the day before heads of state arrive, some of the people on the inside might decide they like the company better in the streets.