The dreadful details: a blow by blow account of how COP17 ended

by nathan thanki

A week later and everyone has returned to their respective homes, readying themselves for the festive season. The mainstream media has been content with the narrative of ‘it was close but we saved the regime, and eventually we’ll save the world’ and has moved on to supposedly bigger concerns such as the Eurozone crisis, and what the best recipe for preparing the Christmas turkey is. Well I for one don’t have much appetite for that: I’m still digesting the turkey that was the Durban outcome. A tasteless meal that stuck in the throat, that one. Here I will walk you through the long last night in the ICC, from Earth in Brackets vantage point from the very back of the hall. That’s where the best chairs were. For the occaision, only Samuli, Julian, Graham, and myself were present. Anjali, Trudi, and Joe had lost their badges during Friday’s action, so were sneaking round the ICC all of Saturday. Eventually Anjali–by that time already too (in)famous–got spotted and ejected, so the others all returned to the hostel with her to rest. We got on without them, and settled in for the show, which I will now recount. For a more professional, detailed, and fuller account of events, I recommend the ENB archives, or TWN updates. But here it is, from one horses mouth (and mostly cobbled together from our tweets).

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The informal stocktaking plenary opened with Mashebane saying that much hard work had been done, so parties should agree to a text even if its imperfect. She went on to say that the process had been as open and transparent as possible. With no sense of irony whatsoever, she then dismissed the informal plenary for more ‘indabas’. During this time I am not ashamed to say that the Earth in Brackets team went to the canteen and bought several six-packs of Hansa in anticipation of the drowning of sorrows that this long night would demand.

When everyone was back in the room it was time to kick off proceedings in earnest. The order of events was laid out: AWG-KP, AWG-LCA, CMP, and finally the COP. It was about 8pm or so when AWG-KP started.

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It began with the EU demanding something called ‘symmetry’ in the protocol. Basically, they were complaining that Europe is the only Party signed up to any legally binding reductions. It’s a bit of a ridiculous argument, really: kind of like a smoker saying “unless all the other lifelong chain smokers quit too, then why would I?” Dear old Connie–EU special envoy for climate change or something important like that–then undermined her position somewhat by also demanding more LULUCF loopholes (she didn’t put it like that) which would mean that the ‘20%’ of reductions below 1990 levels is actually a lot lot less. Like a few % above. The main point of this opening statement, though, was to say that the EU would like to have a second commitment period of 8 years, not the 5 years that was indicated on the text.

The small island states did not like this. Clearly, they had agreed something different with the EU behind closed doors: namely that the KP-2 would last only 5 years. Grenada took to the floor speaking for AOSIS to show their dislike for the EU timeline. Bolivia seemed to piss on the EU bonfire a bit by pointing out that the numbers aren’t clear: exactly how much reduction would happen under KP-2, he asked. 20% for 8 years is different than 20% for 5 years.

As the opinion seemed so polarised, and with the EU whining for ‘just another 10 minutes’ more time, chair Macey (from New Zealand, we should note) decided that the meeting should break for 15 minutes. When it came together again, the chair had decided to include the 2020 EU option, in brackets, and wanted to kick the text up to the CMP. Passing the buck, really.

There was some support from AOSIS and the Least Developed Countries for this idea. All part of the united EU-AOSIS-LDC front, part of Connie’s brink[wo]manship.

Venezuela had problems with the text, though, and was not happy to just pass it along to the CMP, where it would be harder to renegotiate or block. Claudia, the lead negotiator, gave the first of several passionate speeches. To a blank faced chair she asked, “where is the democracy in the UN?” There could be no agreement on the EU text or dates, because the EU only gives what they have already promised. “What kind of language is ‘takes note of’ for a legal document?” she asked. There needed to be stronger language than that. She asked why EU was being applauded for simply doing its duty. After she had finished there was much cheering and clapping. Fellow ALBA member, Nicaragua, expressed concern that the core principle CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities) was being pushed out and that the 2 tracks of KP and LCA were being merged into one. He then pointed out that the world needs commitments, not intentions. Questions of process were, not for the first or last time, raised when he said that ALBA had raised these concern many many times but it was not reflected in the text.

Brazil, wanting a deal, helpfully pointed out to ALBA that is is not 2009, but in fact 2011 and an agreement could be possible.

The chair had heard enough by this stage, he did not let any other Party speak, but instead gavelled the decisions through for consideration by the CMP. Wild laughter and applause erupted, and I went to get some air. By the time I convinced myself to return, the AWG-LCA was well underway.

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The Chair, Dan Reifsnyder (of the US – head negotiator during the Bush era) had been talking about himself for 20 minutes. Even more than that, he was being widely applauded but I wasn’t exactly sure for what. When talk finally became substantive, the Saudi’s were raising concerns, like why was the Standing Committee of long term finance only an advisory body rather than a supervisory one? I’d been in a couple (the rest were closed to us) finance meetings under the LCA, so I had heard all his concerns before. It must be like banging your head against a brick wall, meeting after meeting, year after year.

Bangladesh brought the talk back to a masturbatory congratulation of the Chair once more; thanking the chair for the LCA text even though it “crossed many red lines for developing countries.” We thought that was particularly bizarre.  Philippines thought so too. As ever, and despite all the promises of ‘deliverables’, he pointed out once again that there is an absolute void in adaptation funding. Developing countries are suffering right now, and have been for years, yet there has been resistance at every step from the rich countries. Now the LCA text had no percentages given to adaptation funding, just a desire to see ‘balance’ between adaptation and mitigation. The vulnerable of this world know by now that “some day is not a day of the week.” Philippines speech would have seemed stronger had it not been followed by a very passionate, raw, speech from India. Jayanthi Natarajan, visibly upset, told the room that she could not tell 1.2billion Indians that she had signed away their right to a livelihood. Equity is the basic principle of the Convention–India has one of the lowest per capita emissions, so how can Indians be forced to reduce their emissions any more? It would wipe people from existence.

Although not usually an ally of India, Pakistan provided back up. Referring to the Chair’s 22 years of ‘service’ to the UNFCCC, Pakistan asked the chair sarcastically if he was not actually aged 22 years. I got a laugh out of that; one of the few laughs all night.

You could cut the atmosphere in the plenary with a knife at this point. The ALBA countries began to get involved; Venezuela saying she preferred to get a result rather than applause, and that deleting CBDR amounted to an unfair distribution of responsibilities which Venezuela could not agree to. Nicaragua agreed, and asked the pertinent question which most of us had asked long ago: why was it possible to find money to save the banks, but not possible to find a fraction of that money to put into saving the poor and saving the planet? Obviously he got no answer, but instead was scoffed at, as if it were a stupid question rather than a stupid action.

China added it’s considerable weight to support India, saying that developing countries are doing more to mitigate climate change than the rich nations, and was upset that the promised climate finance was just all talk. The representatives of 2.5 billion people had all voiced strong opposition to the text, but that did not deter the Chair. He decided to forward the text to the COP as his own text, rather than as a consensus paper. As he was wrapping things up, our attentions turned instead to a banging noise that became louder and more frequent. Eventually we saw Claudia, from Venezuela, standing on her chair waving her placard. “You can ignore me after I have spoken” she said to the chair. This text would doom the world to low ambition and flexible mechanisms, she said, and could never be agreed upon, so had to be reconsidered. What happened to the party driven process, if the chair would simply ignore the concerns of so many?

Like so many questions, it too went unanswered, and the LCA text was gavelled through under whatever guise was necessary. Julian and I left for some coffee, as there was an intermission before the informal would start and then the home straight. We’d need the caffeine. On our way we saw the Pakistani and Egyptian negotiators walking together. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen them together: earlier they had been with a member of the COP Presidency in a quiet corner. “This will be the best way” I heard her tell them. As we walked past, I couldn’t resist; “you’re doing well. Keep up the fight!” I don’t know what they thought of that. On our way back from the café, we saw Claudia outside the G77 office. She was crying. Julian gave her a hug, and we told her that she was doing well and we all supported her. I think she appreciated it, but we appreciated  that there was only so much she could do. At the end of it all, what can you do? We just wished her well, and tried to let her know it.

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By the time we came back to the plenary the 2 page paper establishing a ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’ that we had been speculating about had finally been revealed. I took a copy, a beer, Julian, and went to the hallway. Somebody had been playing “always look on the bright side of life” on the lobby piano. Elsewhere in the corridors some commented that security would leave at 6am, while others murmured that the EU preferred a collapse rather than KP-2 without a new mandate. We sat and listened to Chris, a young guy from Australia, play ‘Let it Be’ until he was told to stop by the guards. He did stop, but we laughed at the guard. What was the point?

The final informal plenary opened with Chair Mashebane evoking the spirit of ubuntu, and saying that the system is intact and functioning well. That was my second laugh of the night. The EU obviously welcomed the text as put forth by the LCA chair. It was their text, after all. India appealed one last time to the conscience of the room. Was equity not the centrepiece of the convention? Who would disagree? She said she had been told in the first week that unless India accepted the EU roadmap, they would not get the GCF, nor the KP-2, and would instead be blamed for the failure. There was an effort to shift the blame of climate change onto those who are least responsible! If we are abandoning equity, at least lets announce it openly! As a last ditch deterrent to removing the term ‘legal outcome’ which was India’s lifeline, she said that if the text was forced open then India would have to rethink its stance on everything within: it would all be renegotiable.

AOSIS was caught in between. They were frustrated that there was no ratifiable KP-2, with meaningful numbers. That was the EU’s fault. But AOSIS also asked for the option ‘legal outcome’ to be removed. China reiterated that developed nations had not honoured KP-1, nor had they provided the promised tech transfer or finance. China keeps its promises, he said, why should we trust the developed world? A fair point, the historian in me thought. Bolivia reminded the room of the concept of atmospheric space. The poor have a right to development. CBDR is central to the convention. During this speech, US special envoy Todd Stern was disrespectful enough to walk out. Who said chivalry is dead? Philippines held up his copies of the Convention and Protocol, and said he may as well throw them out now. Pakistan tried in vain to remind the UN of the rules: differences of opinions have to be respected and reflected in a true consensus text. Egypt said he was impressed with the enthusiasm for a new legal treaty, but only wished the same enthusiasm had been shown for the existing framework and protocol.

By this stage there was nothing short of an all out cheering and twitter war among civil society. Some were taking the side of ALBA as far as procedure went, and India/China as far as content went, while others stuck to the ‘protect the islands’ mantra, fully buying into the EU stance. It was this more than anything that disheartened and depressed me that night. To jeer as the Indian minister outlines how climate change will affect her country, and how lack of action from those responsible will ruin millions of lives, is something I cannot fathom. Similarly to scoff as Nicaragua asks if his country is not equal to a rich country, is disgusting. I’m not speaking from some moral high-horse, but from basic human empathy.

As the informal talks had come to an impasse, the chair proposed something radical. She adjourned the session, and called India and the EU to the podium for a very informal huddle. Soon other Parties including Brazil and the US were involved, as were many photographers. Everyone seemed confused by the stunt, and a few negotiators I spoke to on the outskirts of the huddle told us “you should go in the middle to remind them what they are negotiating for.” There was no chance of that, and besides; how many reminders do they need? Russia left the room. Todd Stern was overheard saying “if equity is in, we’re out.” Brazil suggested the phrase: “agreed outcome with legal force.” Reconvening, India said that although they were extremely unhappy with reopening the text, they would accept the changed language. You could practically see the gun in Jayanthi’s back. Connie Hedegaard looked delighted, as did Mashebane. The informal plenary closed, with not all Parties allowed to speak. It was the home straight.

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The CMP and COP all rolled into one for me. There was a war of words between Nicaragua and the EU, Nicaragua saying they wanted an agreement only if it was consensus based, and the EU basically saying a package was take it or leave it. Bolivia was very upset (but no Pablo Solon) and said he had the right to state his observations before a text was approved. He asked the chair to note that Bolivia did not agree with Paragraph 3. I did not bother to even check which text he was referring to.

Nicaragua said that in negotiations you win some and lose some, but to lose them all, without an explanation, is devastating.

Russia was being a nuisance at this stage, with slow and long speeches in Russian, asking for an explanation as to why his proposal from earlier COP plenary wasn’t included. As the headsets for translation were so dysfunctional, I understood very little of what he said, other than that the only reason he was asking was so that he could leave to catch his plane. There was a general feeling that he should just get on the plane.

It was after 6am. People, papers and laptops lay strewn about the room. The gavel came out and everything went through, text after text, decision after decision. The GCF text whizzed past me. Then it was all over. Pershing and Stern high fived, the translators counted their over-time pay, the Chair and EU posed for photos. We said some goodbyes (goodbye equity!) and stumbled out of the ICC into the bright Durban morning. Back in the hostel at 7am, we wake up the others.

“What happened?”

“We did it! Everything turned out just fine!”

“Just go to bed.”

And there you have it. Thank you to everyone who read our rants, amplified our analysis, and otherwise supported us throughout. Keep an eye out for some more analysis, photos, and reflections in January.

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