Climate Feedback

Copenhagen: ‘They are heading into that zombie state’

It’s crunch time here, and everything appears to be moving along as expected, which is to say everything is behind schedule. The main negotiating bodies finished their work this morning, which is to say that they got as far as they can go. The Danes were expected to drop new text proposing some compromise language this afternoon, which, if accepted, in theory, the ministers would then iron into shape before the leaders take over tomorrow. But there are procedural delays, and the Danes have hit the pause button to try to design a new framework for breaking up the text into pieces rather than negotiating everything in the main plenary, where 193 countries squabbling over every detail could send things into chaos.

As he is prone to do, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer offered up a metaphor, comparing the negotiations to a cable car heading up the mountain. “The cable car has made an unexpected stop, but I am confident that it will be moving forward again soon.”

This afternoon I met Abdallah El Mahboul, who heads the Moroccan Water Resources Department. He, too, was confident that a deal would be struck, although he remains deeply disappointed in the United States and the rest of the industrialized countries for failing to rise to the occasion. But from his perspective, a bad deal with some money and some greenhouse gas reductions is better than no deal, no money and fewer greenhouse gas reductions. “Everybody needs a deal,” he says. “For us, Africans, we just have to get what we can.”

In some ways, this has become one of the key questions: Will developing countries be willing to take what they can get? Or will they hold out? The developed countries aren’t changing their targets, despite ample evidence that they seem to fall short of stated goals and that more could be done. South Africa’s lead negotiator, Alf Wills, says the talks have moved beyond the $10-billion start up fund and are now focused on getting the architecture right for mid-term and long-term financing. We’ll see what happens.

John Holdren, US President Barack Obama’s science advisor, seemed quite optimistic about securing a strong deal when I tracked him down earlier today. He has been busy in the backrooms advising negotiators, dropping in on talks when needed and attending bilateral discussions with countries like China. When I asked him if he could be more specific, he just smiled and said “No”.

I talked to Elliot Diringer, who works on international climate issues at the Pew Center for Global Climate Change in Washington, after getting back to the press room. Pew has said that what needed to come out of Copenhagen was a treaty architecture, even if countries can’t agree on the numbers, and he seemed encouraged by the fact that everybody is still pushing for actual emissions commitments from individual countries. It’s hard to tell whether they will succeed, but they certainly look like they are trying. “The negotiators are starting to look bedraggled. They are heading into that zombie state,” Diringer said. “But they need to be in that zombie state. That’s when the deals get done.”


Comments are closed.