Organisation - February 17, 2010

Unbearable frustration in Copenhagen

Hours of disputes about the agenda every day, and behind-the-scenes deals. That is the picture of the Copenhagen Climate Conference painted by Professor Hans Bruyninckx of the University of Leuven in his guest lecture in Wageningen on 10 February.

In the second week negotiations were day and night...
Bruyninckx, a Belgian delegate in Copenhagen, portrayed a widespread lack of political will to reach a climate agreement. 'The Belgian delegation met every morning at around seven o'clock. There was an EU briefing at eight and the official COP meeting started at nine. But most of the delegates only turned up after ten, and then the agenda was the first procedural obstacle. The G77, a group of about 130 developing countries, and China could never agree and the meeting would be adjourned after a couple of hours of discussions. The agenda problems would then be discussed in an informal meeting. But informal meetings are not translated. A Russian delegate asked for an interpreter. Then a Senegalese delegate stood up and asked for a French translation. And so it went on.'

Making promises
This sort of game-playing give an idea of how little will there was to reach an agreement in Copenhagen. 'The US kept quiet in all the official meetings and didn't make a single constructive contribution. They did do some negotiating behind the scenes and were constantly visible in the press. The fact is, the US cannot make any promises because of their internal politics. The senate has to agree, but senators, of whom there are two per state, represent local interests. If their state produces coal or oil, they vote against binding climate targets. And so a minority in the US can hold up international agreements.'
'If the US doesn't make any concessions, neither does China. Full stop. What is more, China didn't attend any of the meetings, but just negotiated behind the scenes. During the conference, China operated mainly through the G77. Sudan was spokesman for the G77, but statements on justice and transparency are not exactly convincing, coming from there.'

Iron Curtain
'The EU wanted to play a leading role at Copenhagen. They wanted to use their experience of recent years to make clear agreements and rules. Europe's own interest in this is that it is ahead of the field, and wants to create a level playing field for European industry. It was in a good position in Copenhagen, with Sweden as EU chair and Denmark chairing the conference. But in the first week of the conference, The EU was rather divided internally. The old iron curtain is now sometimes called the 'green curtain', separating the different standpoints of eastern and western Europe. Another problem was that Europe had no idea how to draw in other parties.'
'The procedures were endless and in the second week the negotiations went on all night three times in a row. Negotiators had bags under their eyes and looked as white as sheets. The political will to achieve anything was entirely lacking. It was unbearably frustrating. On the very last day, China, India, the US and Brazil and a few other countries put together a document of two and a half pages. The EU countries were in a meeting and were completely sidelined! The frustration and disillusionment was enormous. Some negotiators had difficulty controlling their emotions.'

Mexico
It is not just Copenhagen that Bruyninckx is frustrated about. He is pessimistic about the future too. 'At the end of 2010 there is the next round in Mexico, which some people see as the last chance for a major new climate treaty. In the US a more anti-climate congress is expected. China doesn't seem to intend to change its attitude either. And Europe will have to come up with a new strategy, but you cannot do that in a few months. The main reason for optimism is that there is more of a sense of urgency in society at large than in the negotiations between countries.'

Bruyninckx's lecture was one of a series in the Environmental Policy chair group. The next Environmental Governance Seminar is on 25 March. The speaker is Maarten Hajer.

Re:act