First thoughts from COP17

I write this from the Plenary session at COP17 in Durban. My first pleasant surprise was that I was accepted for credentials to join the delegation of Papua New Guinea. I have long admired the PNG delegation. Historically of note, it was PNG and its head of delegation, Kevin Conrad, who stood against the Bush Administration in Bali at COP 13.  The desire for the “Bali Roadmap” heading to a second commitment period under Kyoto. The agreement was being blocked by the US government. Conrad for PNG famously asked for the the US to “either lead or get out of the way.” His plea was met with uncharacteristically undiplomatic prolonged applause. The US backed down and allowed the agreement to go forward.

This reminds me that some of you may not realize that UN agreements require consensus bordering — on unanimity.  So the Bush administration used to be able to block progress for everyone. So too does Canada have that power now.

My sense as week 2 of COP17 begins is that things are going very badly.  What is on the table is far short of what is necessary to avoid over-shooting 450 ppm and over 2 degrees C global average temperature increase.  Assuming Canada’s unhelpful actions are well known to you, let me mention that the US has been appalling as well. The US has suggested that post-first phase of Kyoto, post-2012, we need a “period of reflection” with new action for 2020.  This is like the crew of the Titanic having a senior officer argue that, rather than breakout the lifeboats, passengers should pause for a yoga class.  We do not have time for planned procrastination.

More later.