Stalemate and nausea at COP17

“In the negotiations, people are reading the same old statements that we have heard for two years” said Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow at IIED, at a SADC networking dinner in Durban last night. As he spoke, my heart sank – it was back, that wave of nausea that I felt two years ago on the first afternoon of COP15 in Copenhagen.

It had started off well. There were hopes for a real breakthrough in Denmark, and Yvo de Boer, former head of the UNFCCC, had been inspirational at the opening session in the morning. He exhorted delegates to put aside national differences and reach out to each other, in the interests of our future. But that afternoon, in a negotiating session, I listened to the same old tired, polarising statements, blocs and countries hammering on with no sign of fresh thinking, and that sickening feeling came over me. It was not going to work. Self-interest was going to win over common good.

Now it is two years later, and we are back in the same place. Or, rather, still in the same place. NGOs report that they are struggling to get a serious discussion on ambition, as regards targets for emissions cuts. There is a massive disconnect between the science, which tells us what we need to do to avoid more dangerous climate change, and the politics. As one veteran campaigner said, “We have not found a way to get countries to move beyond their self-interests”. Despite two more years of discussions, and lots of time, effort and energy, the positions seem just as entrenched against finding the necessary common ground to save the Kyoto Protocol. And we are still fighting over who will pay for adaptation in the most vulnerable and least-developed countries. Yet we are now even clearer that we are approaching dangerous tipping points in the climate system,after which  life on earth with be shatteringly different.

We need to remind the negotiators of the words of Rachel Carson, spoken many years ago but never more valid:

“I think we are  challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”

Maturity. Now there’s an under-used word nowadays. My wish today is for maturity for the negotiators at COP17. As soon as possible, and for as long as possible.


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