The ineluctable etiquette of international diplomacy

Pre Cancún:

Post Cancún:

Hat tip to Eli for alerting me to the first image, thanks to Marc Roberts for both…

NZYD in Cancun: hope remains

This is a guest post from Cancun by Paul Young (bottom right in the pic – click to put names to faces) of the New Zealand Youth Delegation.

It tells you a lot about the nature of the COP16 climate conference in Cancun that I’m only writing this now. Gareth approached us – the New Zealand Youth Delegation – back near the beginning of the conference, offering a guest blog spot. “Fantastico!” we said. I set to work planning what I’d say, jotting down a few notes to finish over the next day or so.

That didn’t quite end up happening… I was unprepared for the full on assault on the brain, senses, heart, and email inbox that this has been. I wasn’t even an “insider” during the first week (to limit numbers, the UNFCCC Secretariat only gave us eight spots per week to share amongst twelve people), but that didn’t make much difference. For a start, there’s a fair bit going on outside with alternative events such as Klimaforum, and demonstrations like the La Via Campesina one on Tuesday. There’s a huge constituency of youth NGOs (under the banner YOUNGO) we’ve been (net)working with on policy, media campaigns, and actions. There’s plenty of work to be done trying to figure out what the hell is actually happening in the negotiations, and really getting to grips with the policy issues. Then there’s the battle of trying to garner any mainstream media interest in what’s going on over here.


You end up being in “go” mode around the clock, with little time to stop and think. You end up having to squeeze intense group meetings in late at night or in the early hours of the morning. You end up spending hours sitting on busses between the two main conference venues. You end up wasting hours in a bureaucratic ordeal trying to get approval for a very tame action inside the conference centre, only to have it shot down at the final hurdle. You end up losing your laptop power cable because you were in such a hurry packing up to get to the next event, and having to start your half-written blog all over again…

And then when you finally do get a chance to sit down and do some writing, your brain is often too tired and overloaded with information you are struggling to make sense of that the words just won’t come.

Anyway, I don’t mean for this whole blog to be a “dog ate my homework” exercise. I’m trying to express how the twelve of us in NZYD are feeling as these talks reach the hectic final stages before coming to a close, with it looking like the outcomes may not even succeed in meeting the depressingly low expectations.

For me personally, the last fortnight is a blur. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of reflection to process all that has happened and all that I’ve learned. I came here with one question in the forefront of my mind: does this UNFCCC process have a chance of delivering us the deal that we so desperately need? Right now, I’m not sure if I’ve come any closer to an answer. Will a consensus be reached on all the fine details, such as forestry rules, before it really is too late? Are the insufficient pledges on the table worth the effort in the first place? How much should we hold out for something stronger? Is it more important to get something in place, no matter how weak? If the talks were to collapse, would an alternative path emerge?

Hope remains, though. I have recognised the genuine desire in the politicians and negotiators to deliver a deal. The wise words of Bill McKibben, in his speech at the three-day Conference of the Youth that preceded the COP, have stuck with me. Paraphrasing from my sporadic notes, it went something like this:

In some sense, what goes on here inside the COP16 is the side-show. We are the centre. What happens inside is only a reflection of the work we are all doing back home in building the movement for action.

The battle against climate change is different from most other problems the world has faced; there is no guarantee we’re ultimately going to win. But there’s one thing you can guarantee: there are people like you all around the world who will keep fighting until the very end.

We’ve met many amazing people over the last fortnight, and what Bill says is true.

Coates in Cancún: ministers on the job


This is Barry Coates of Oxfam NZ’s fourth report from COP16 in Cancún: now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty…

Things are starting to move here in Cancun. Most of the Ministers arrived today, joining around 30 who have been around since the weekend. Some were shoulder-tapped to do consultations on key issues, including the New Zealand Minister Tim Groser, who has been paired with the Indonesian Minister to consult on mitigation and MRV – which is how to go about Measuring, Reporting and Verifying emissions cuts – one of the really tough nuts to crack.

The arrival of politicians can help unlock these talks. In the past three years there has been some progress but at this rate we may be negotiating for the next decade. A major problem has been that the political mandate has never been clearly defined for the negotiators – this was obvious when the current round was kicked off in Bali in 2007. The subsequent summit in Poland failed to make important political decisions, leaving a log-jam for Copenhagen in 2009.


There is some interesting re-thinking of what Copenhagen achieved or not. Certainly it was badly chaired by Denmark (not the fault of the Environment Minister who is now with the EU) and it damaged trust between countries. But, as Michael Jacobs, former climate adviser to Gordon Brown (and old friend from my UK days) has written, the Copenhagen Accord was never officially adopted but countries accounting for around 85 per cent of global emissions have put in pledges under it. The Copenhagen Accord, for all its failings and bad process, has provided some of the political direction that has been lacking.

So in preparation for Ministers starting the “high level segment”, the pace of negotiations accelerated today. It’s been a juggling act, with my time divided between analysing the last draft of the section on finance (the “text”) to understand what changes are being made, who is making them and where there is scope for the points Oxfam wants to see included; lobbying delegations; writing articles; coordinating Oxfam’s policy team work; tracking the flow of information on email and Skype chats; networking with allies, generally through the coordinating group, Climate Action Network; and doing media interviews (from Al-Jazeera to USA Today!)

In all of this, I did not get a chance to join a march involving the international farmer’s movement, Via Campesina, the indigenous people’s networks and of a host of social movements and NGOs from Mexico and across Latin America (Flickr photoset).

Evenings are the time for meetings. Tonight was the New Zealand delegation reception, with the Minister, Nick Smith and the NZ negotiating team (but not Tim Groser who was tied up in consultations). The highlight was the presentation of an amazing fern mounted on a long sheet, containing hundreds of signatures (I couldn’t even see where mine was) and messages for the negotiations. The fantastic NZ Youth Delegation, who made the fern, gave a speech about the importance of the talks, especially for their future. They have been doing some great campaigning on the accounting rules for forests (called LULUCF for all you policy wonks). I will include some photos in the next blog.

But in amongst all of this, has been the opportunity to discuss strategy for climate change campaigning with allies in the Global Campaign for Climate Action – the tcktcktck campaign. Key people from Oxfam, Greenpeace, WWF, Avaaz and talked about where to next for the campaign. I also had a chance to meet with Martin Khor, formerly head of Third World Network and now head of the South Centre. I have worked with Martin on trade issues for many years and on climate issues more recently. I have huge respect for his incredible power of analysis, confirmed by his really interesting insights into the dynamics of the negotiations.

I have not yet mentioned much about the Pacific negotiators and NGOs here in Cancun. Pacific people have acted as the moral conscience of these negotiations with skill and determination, generally working with other island countries in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). It has been great catching up with Oxfam partners Pelenise Alofa from Kiribati and the amazing Ursula Rakova from Bougainville. She is an inspiration.

Another AOSIS representative made a memorable comment today in response to British Minister Chris Huhne, who pointed out that if you had a 95 per cent chance of your house burning down, and it would only cost 2 per cent of your income to insure it, you’d kick yourself if you didn’t do something. The AOSIS negotiator pointed out that it is more like there are 192 houses in these negotiations and the developing country houses are on fire. This was in support of the proposal from AOSIS to introduce a form of insurance for loss and damage from climate change, an innovative and important idea.

There are now three days to go. Oxfam is calling on ministers to elevate the level of vision and ambition for these negotiations, and ensure that the key political direction is provided. This must include the agreement to set up a new fair Climate Fund and clarity about the legally binding outcome of the UNFCCC negotiations. Success in securing agreement on these issues is essential to mark Cancun as a milestone that accelerates the pace of negotiations towards an agreement in Durban next year.

Tomorrow morning, the Ministers get down to work. They carry the expectations and hopes of millions of people. We will encourage them to be bold, but also hold them to account for the decisions they make.

Monckton goes bananas

Scrotum is laying low it seems, so (as yet) I have no inside information on the doings of the the good Lord Monckton in Mexico beyond his own words, but they are extraordinary enough to demand a post. Monckton is in Cancun with Roy Spencer (satellite temperatures a speciality), the pair acting as emissaries for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a Scaife-funded organisation devoted to the usual denial. Monckton is helpfully providing regular updates on his doings via another of his fossil-funded US sponsors, the SPPI blog. It appears he’s gone bananas


Dr. Spencer and I decided to try banana daiquiris instead. After a good 20 minutes – well, this is the Mañana Republic – the head waiter hovered along to our table and told us our daiquiris would be along in a minute. He had hardly made this ambitious promise when the wine waiter shimmered in and explained that there would be no banana daiquiris because – yes, you guessed it – “we have no bananas”.

Lacking the necessary fruit, the sceptical pair settled for frozen margaritas. My experience with said drink usually involves two headaches — one on the way in, as the cold explodes in my sinuses, and one the morning after — but in the noble lord’s case it seems to have caused a major episode of sceptical revisionism. Apparently, poor old Dick Lindzen is suffering because his papers are not impressing his peers:

Within months, a savagely-phrased and deliberately-wounding rebuttal was published by one of the most prominent of the Climategate emailers. It was one of those tiresome papers that pointed out one or two supposed defects in Professor Lindzen’s analysis, but without being honest enough to conclude that these defects could not and did not alter the Professor’s conclusion.

Monckton rather glosses over the serious methodological problems with Lindzen’s paper that meant his conclusions could not be supported by the evidence he provided. But let’s not let the facts stand in the way of a good tale. It appears that Douglass and McKitrick have suffered equally badly, and it’s nothing to do with any “supposed defects” in their work, it’s all the fault of that mean old IPCC.

Perhaps it was the lack of bananas, or an excess of tequila, that drove the Viscount Brenchley to liven up the “sombre” proceedings at Cancun by gatecrashing a green business luncheon attended by Nick Stern, Richard Branson and assorted Mexican billionaires. John Vidal of the Guardian was there:

Holding forth in the centre of the UN climate conference lunch party, he claimed that man-made climate change was not happening and businesses should hesitate before investing in green energy.

Most people steered clear, but Monckton had no hesitation in barging in on conversations, reeling off statistics and arguments that, he said, proved not only that the world was not warming but that “certain newspapers” were not reporting the reality.

Eventually the patience of the organisers wore thin, and he was asked to leave — but not before Vidal had recorded a short exchange with the potty peer. It’s well worth a listen.

Monckton appears to concede that 2010 was a year of record setting warmth, blaming it on El Niño, but then later claims there’s been no warming since 2001. The rest of his patter is a glib Gish Gallop of standard Monckton nonsense. But there’s more… The CFACT crew have been conducting more merry japes — here’s Monckton introducing a short Youtube video nominating the CFACT “Kook of the Week” (an unlucky NZr). I leave it to the reader to decide who might be the real “kook”.

[PS: In his latest Mexican missive, he reveals he’s working on a dramatic new piece of scholarship:

I have recently been preparing a learned paper for the Econometrics Journal on the so-far-unaddressed but surely not-unimportant question of how to determine the amount of “global warming” that might actually be prevented by any proposed strategy to mitigate future “global warming” by taxing or regulating carbon dioxide emissions, or by adopting alternative technologies.

I expect it will pass peer review, because he’s the only peer who will read it.

[Harry Belafonte (& friends)]

“She took me half the way there…”

Bill McKibben has come up with a striking metaphor for the US stance in climate change negotiations. In a Huffington Post article he describes it as a tease – “it shows some leg, but it never ends up in your arms.

Twice before US negotiators have persuaded the world into a watered-down agreement – the Kyoto pact and the Copenhagen accord – and in both cases the Senate didn’t come through – it didn’t ratify Kyoto, and it didn’t pass the climate legislation last summer. “All the watering down was for nought – you might as well have done the right thing.”

Now, says McKibben, we’re into Climate Tease Part III.


“This time the U.S. is demanding that the poor countries of the world stop thinking of themselves as poor. Before there can be any agreement on stopping deforestation, or on aid to help poor countries cope with climate change, Mr. Stern said last week, those nations have to agree to start cutting carbon more or less as if they were the U.S.”

It isn’t fair, but McKibben acknowledges that there’s a logic to it, in that the developing world’s emissions will need to be reined in like everyone’s if we’re to slow down climate change. It would make sense if the developed world sent them the aid that lets them move past coal.

“But since we’ve seen this movie twice already, we know how it ends. The rest of the world gives in, and then the Senate doesn’t come through with the money — indeed, just yesterday four GOP solons offered a preview of coming attractions. They sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton demanding that she freeze the relatively small sum of climate aid we’d already pledged — less than $2 billion next year. They were, they said, opposed to the deal Obama struck last year which would ‘transfer billions of US taxpayer dollars to developing nations in the name of climate change’. In other words, even the small sums we’ve promised are unlikely to be forthcoming.”

Don’t be deceived, he says. Washington is “playing the world for suckers”. In conclusion he reiterates his consistent theme.  “If we actually want to stop global warming, then we have to build a movement big enough to force change. Otherwise we’re suckers too.”

McKibben is no cynic. Although he can write light heartedly and with humour he’s very much in earnest. Indeed the idealism of the movement he co-founded is about as far from cynicism as you can get.   “Our theory of change is simple: if an international grassroots movement holds our leaders accountable to the latest climate science, we can start the global transformation we so desperately need.”  Their latest effort is an exhibition of art (an Indian one pictured) large enough to be seen from space.

Another humorous look at the intransigence of US lawmakers was provided by Thomas Friedman in his New York Times column a week ago. He imagined a Chinese WikiLeaker publishing a cable from the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

“Americans just had what they call an ‘election’. Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him.”

Among the results:

“Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan.”

Friedman’s no cynic either, as is apparent from his climate change book Hot, Flat and Crowded. But like McKibben he’s exasperated by the seeming inability of the American political system, at least on the federal level, to even acknowledge the seriousness of the problem let alone address it. It’s certainly difficult to see the US leading us anywhere promising while they’re stuck with their current mix of legislators. Any meaningful agreements at Cancún, which Barry Coates’s latest blog considers possible, will still have to survive the bluster and bombast which substitute for science back home.

[The Fabs]