Ice concentrates ministerial minds

by Bryan Walker on July 30, 2009

connie-hedegaard_editedConnie Hedegaard, the livewire Danish Minister for Climate and Energy (yes they are twinned in Denmark – would that they still were in NZ), will not be to blame if the Copenhagen talks, which she is to host, founder.  I have been watching the BBC’s Hard Talk programme the last couple of evenings.  Interviewer Stephen Sackur has been to Greenland, to Ilulissat, where Hedegaard had invited some 30 ministers on climate change to an informal conference at a place where the effects of global warming on Greenland ice flow are all too apparent. She explained to Sackur in the excerpt from this interview  (second clip down the page – the first is only introductory) her hope that, in remote and secluded Ilulissat, the ministers, working in the knowledge that everything was off the record, would find some trust and common ground. 

Did it work?  She describes putting ministers into small groups of seven or eight ministers each.  “And I heard in the first group a Minister from a specific country mentioning things that I had hoped for years to hear from him. And that’s because it is Chatham House rules, it is very informal, it will not be used against him. But people can try to think a bit aloud. And then see what is the reaction. If I dare to make this move what are you going to tell me?”    She sees such processes as creating more trust, remarking that in the negotiations there is not much trust.  Taking time to understand what the other person is really saying, instead of immediately reacting negatively, can open up possibilities which have not been apparent in current negotiating stances.

How hopeful is she about Copenhagen? Cautiously might be the best answer.  She puts the slowness of the preliminary negotiations down to the negotiators lacking specific political guidance from their politicians and governments. The Ilulissat gathering may help towards providing impetus in that direction. She also considers that the negotiating parties have not yet shown all their cards. The need for US leadership has been a consistent theme for her, and she has hailed the Obama adminstration’s commitment. When pressed by Sackur she agreed the US position was not yet adequate to the challenge, but was quick to point out that the speed with which they haved moved towards a cap and trade system would have been thought impossible six months ago.

Hedegaard has frequently made it clear that without rich countries agreeing to provide finance for emission abatement measures in developing countries there will be no deal at Copenhagen. Sackur pressed her as to how much money the rich world should put up for this purpose.  Her reply was interesting. Finance must start flowing soon, but she emphasised the need for new mechanisms for its transfer whereby it is clear that the money is achieving results.  Pledges are easy, and are all too often not followed up, as has been clear in the case of  pledges of development aid relative to rich countries’ GDP.  Denmark is one of only ten countries that have met that pledge. (NZ remains far from it.) 

In the first programme  Sackur talked with two climate change ministers present at the conference, Penny Wong of Australia amd Shyam Saran of India. Here is an excerpt (second clip down again) from the interview.  Sackur points out that the scale of the emissions cut Australia is proposing is nowhere near the size of the cut that the science tells us countries like Australia need to make.  Penny Wong earnestly explains how Australia is a highly intensive carbon economy. This makes it a more substantial challenge for them to reduce their emissions than  many other nations because of the nature of their economy. It sounds rather familiar. Not shown in the excerpt was the Indian minister’s equally earnest assertion that his country could not be expected to slow down on lifting the population out of poverty because of climate change. Taken to an intransigent extreme it seemed to me that would mean that the rich can’t get there because they are rich and the poor won’t go there because they are poor. That would be an impasse indeed. But it is surely unlikely to come to that. There is too much at stake for all humanity, and there was certainly no suggestion from either minister that the reality of climate change can be discounted. 

Both Hard Talk programmes were prefaced with pictures of the rapidly retreating Ilulissat glacier and interviews with scientists working on the spot.  Sackur looks for less than alarming interpretations of what is happening in Greenland whenever he can find them, but there was no mistaking the seriousness of the scientists he spoke with.  The final programme in the series will be on tonight’s Hard Talk programme on the BBC on Sky at 8.30 pm.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

georgedarroch July 30, 2009 at 5:11 pm

But it is surely unlikely to come to that. There is too much at stake for all humanity

The same could have been said before the first and second world wars. People will act against their collective interests to support their relative ones, time and time again.

Bryan Walker July 30, 2009 at 5:42 pm

George, perhaps instead of “for all humanity” I should have written “for each of the parties”. In the case of climate change there is a coincidence of international and national interests, which may be the only thing that enables a solution.

John Mashey August 2, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Smart person. She’s met Bjorn Lomborg, and it appears she’s learned from that.

Alan August 2, 2009 at 10:07 pm

To me energy is a key factor. I’ll probably get a few snorts of derision here, however, there appears to be a number of alternative ideas out there for the production of energy that could do with some more attention. A browse of PESwiki.com is a place to start. I fully realise one must be wary of ‘hacks’ and con-artists but the pressure does seem to be on. One thing is clear, we must be weaned off of fossil-fuel incineration for our energy needs. One immediate benefit of truly cheap and clean power would enable more desalination [although there’s the issue of dealing with the leftover brine].

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