COP19: News for November 19, 2013

Today was the official opening of the High-Level portion of the negotiations.  My day started with a real thrill, meeting the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  Thanks to being an advisor to the Afghanistan delegation, I was in the room for Mr. Ban’s speech to a closed meeting of the developing countries (the Group of 77 and China). The Secretary General made the rounds through all major negotiating groups. His was the first time in the history of the G77 that a U.N. Secretary General has ever addressed them. He is also the first Secretary General to come to the climate COPs. For 1992 Rio Earth Summit, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali did attend – but that was the largest gathering of heads of government, to that date, in world history. Having a Secretary General fly in to help rescue fragile negotiations has been something only Ban Ki-Moon has done.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-MoonToday, he was trying to mobilize political will and promote his Leaders’ Climate Summit, planned for September 23, 2014 in New York. (Just ahead of the General Assembly, when heads of government come to speak to the General Assembly – except for Stephen Harper who leaves New York as others arrive. But that’s another story.)

The goal is to try to obtain additional commitments from heads of government that will improve the negotiations in Lima at COP20. (Heading for a new global deal by COP21).

As I said, that was a highlight…the rest of the day made me wonder if we can possibly get a workable treaty, which depends on progress in Lima, which depends on progress in Warsaw, and which is not apparent at the moment.

I spent most of the day tracking the negotiations on the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action ( “ADP”) on behalf of the Afghanistan delegation. Canada has intervened in these discussions, always on the same page with Australia. The draft text under consideration is largely what large polluters want. It does not maintain the architecture of the convention, under which we are still operating.  It attempts to treat developing and industrialized countries the same way. The problem is that they are not the same. The worse problem is that industrialized countries have made commitments and pledges and then broken them. In fairness, the EU and Norway have met their targets and Japan, while falling short, has, at least, substantially reduced emissions. Everyone who is paying attention knows that we are running out of time. This is how the lead negotiator for Colombia put it tonight:

“We are calling for a world with less than 1.5 degrees… the reality is we are heading for a four degree world or higher. The year we are aiming at is 2015. If we want to stay away from a 4 degree world, we have to act.”

(She is awesome, by the way.)

This is how Ban Ki-Moon put it:

“We are the first humans to have ever breathed air with 400 ppm carbon… I was recently warned in Iceland, soon we could be a land with no ice.”

Everyone understands that launching a serious transition away from fossil fuels requires leadership – and leadership from the wealthy nations. What other group of countries has the capacity to do it?

As the negotiator for the Gambia put it, speaking on behalf of the African bloc, “Without leaders, there will be no followers.”

Right now, other than the EU (even they have problems), there are no leaders.

As the clock ticks down on the next three days, we’ll watch and hope that one of the powerful nations, or a country with the capacity to break a dead-lock, demonstrate good faith and build trust, will step up and show leadership. That used to be our role. Now, we are just on the wrong side of history.