Biggest Show on Earth

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Biggest Show on Earth

Stephen Midas reports from the Copenhagen Climate Conference where delegates around the world are working to thrash out an agreement aimed at tackling global warming.

At a pre-conference press briefing, one official described it as ‘the biggest show on earth.’ Two days in, and the Copenhagen climate change summit is certainly living up to that billing — though not always for the right reasons.

A scandal involving selectively leaked, hacked e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia marred the opening day of negotiations, while a draft agreement by host country Denmark that was leaked on the second day caused uproar. Meanwhile, the consensus on the pre-conference aim of keeping global warming to two degrees Celsius also seems to have unravelled.

Yet it all began so positively, with Framework Convention head Yvo de Boer urging delegates to ‘make history’ and Conference President Connie Hedegaard declaring that ‘everyone will have to chip in’ to avoid global catastrophe. Such calls came as the US Environmental Protection Agency declared that greenhouse gases ‘threaten the public health and welfare of the American people,’ an announcement that seemed likely to strengthen President Barack Obama’s prospects of securing a more ambitious American target.

But solidarity on the gravity of the common threat was punctured on day one, with Saudi Arabia’s chief negotiator telling delegates that the leaked scientists’ emails had ‘shaken’ trust in climate science, ‘especially now that we are about to conclude an agreement’ that would ‘mean sacrifices for our economies’ (clearly a reference to oil exporting economies, though this was left unsaid). The Saudis called for an ‘independent’ investigation and rejected the assurances of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the scientific process is sound.

Meanwhile, even among the states that accept the need to act (an overwhelming majority), differences became apparent on the questions of money and ambition. Speaking on the US and Chinese positions for the Swedish presidency of the EU, Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren was blunt: ‘The bids on the table are too low.’ This is a new situation for China, which has gotten used to leading the chorus of developing states complaining that American targets were too low. Nonetheless, China’s delegation chief Su Wei still played the role his country has become accustomed to, attacking the US target as nothing ‘notable or remarkable’ and claiming that Japan, whose ambitious commitment comes with major conditions, ‘has committed to nothing.’

But the biggest gambit of the opening stages was made by Lumumba Di-Aping, chief negotiator for the G77 and China bloc of developing nations, who called an extraordinary and much delayed press conference to denounce a text drafted by Denmark (and possibly also the US and UK). The leaked draft breaks the developed-developing binary by introducing a new category of ‘most vulnerable countries,’ providing for an annual green fund of $10 billion for developing countries.

Di-Aping savaged the draft, ‘aimed at superimposing a solution on our political leaders,’ for attempting to ‘rob developing countries of their just, applicable and fair share of the atmospheric space.’ He excoriated rich country leaders for enunciating ‘noble intentions followed by malice,’ and claimed African states had never accepted the target to limit warming to two degrees. ‘Two degrees is certain death for Africa,’ he said, adding the $10 billion fund would not be sufficient even to ‘buy developing countries’ citizens enough coffins’. De Boer moved to limit the damage during Di-Aping’s extraordinary press conference, issuing a statement emphasizing that the Danish text was just ‘an informal paper’.

During the excitement, Indonesia continued to put the case for a strong Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism. There is broad expectation of progress on REDD, but after two days of fierce contention, uncertainty surrounds much else.