In the COP

Posted on January 1, 2011 by

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A climate change conference can be very tiring. For me it meant twelve hours of work for fourteen days, plus the nightly networking sessions. In Cancún three hours of travels to a totally isolated venue were added to that – a major ground for complaint amongst the delegates. However, one could manage to put even this to some use. As the buses were crowded, one was practically forced to have a brief chat with one’s neighbour. Getting to know people is indeed what counts most during such conferences.

The COP (Conference of Parties) itself offered valuable lessons about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process and international negotiations in general. First of all, the outside (activist forum’s) feels much more inspiring than the inside (negotiation center). Whether in Copenhagen or Cancún, activists manage to present a host of solutions. Contrary to that the politics inside the negotiation halls seem to destroy any attempt of introducing creative solutions. Radical positions have no place in international negotiations. In Cancún the extremists were Canada, Saudi Arabia and Bolivia. All of them were obstructing the process in a variety of ways and offered few or no viable solutions in return. Diplomacy requires a lot of pragmatism and does not support blind idealism nor pure selfishness.

Political power exercised by the strong looms large over such conferences. Remember the Copenhagen Accord? It was a hugely controversial paper that the NGO community feared would put the Kyoto Protocol in jeopardy. According to Wikileaks it came into existence through the US using carrot and stick methods to convince smaller and poorer states to sign up. If you wanted the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to stay in your country you were left with little choice but to ascent. European countries, Japan, China or the US all arrive with armies of negotiators in order to secure their interests in the final documents. In comparison, The Gambia came with a mere 15 and that only because a benevolent NGO paid for the journey. Such small groups get left behind easily, because they have difficulties understanding the process. They try to organize themselves and cooperate through forming groups such as the Least Developed Countries (referred to as LDCs), but rumour spread that they operated totally ineffectively, probably because they lack capacity.

Something else which struck me was the degree of of hypocrisy. An event that is supposed to combat climate change is held within a place that promotes the opposite: a tourist resort called Cancún. This city was created out of nothing some 40 years ago to provide wealthy (US) Americans with a place to relax. Today there are huge luxury hotels instead of mangrove forests and swamps. Hardly the most sustainable form of tourism. Alongside this, the merits of excessive consumption were advertised on TV screens all over the conference centre beckoning you to wasteful parties.

One can look at the United Nations (UN) as 194 different individuals that all have been born into entirely different realities. Although diversity of opinions may add to the organization’s wisdom, it also undermines efforts to create viable solutions to combat climate change. Too many cooks spoil the broth, right? You can imagine how problematic it is to have 194 cooks and make the meal taste good.

All in all, one ends up feeling disheartened by the problems of diplomacy, and indeed angry at times at nations obstructing the process. However, one shouldn’t forget that the UNFCCC is the only thing we have in which all nations communicate with one another on the topic of climate change. It is of paramount importance that we keep the process alive and improve it by making it more transparent, equal and honest.

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