Competing agendas provoke frustration and suspicion

1st December 2009
Press Release

Competing agendas provoke frustration and suspicion Irish Times 19th December 2009

ANALYSIS: Some countries feel left out, while others are playing the good guy, writes FRANK McDONALD LUIZ INÁCIO Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil, talked openly yesterday of his frustration at the complex process of trying to save the world; he had first-hand experience of it as one of 28 heads of state and government who were at a meeting until 2am trying to resolve outstanding differences.

He found it astonishing that so many “very prominent figures in the political world” were subjected to having to talk about issues of detail that should have been sorted out long beforehand. It was not something he had seen for a long time, since his earlier career as a trade-union leader facing bosses across the table.

Lula was also among 19 world leaders invited to a multilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama after he flew in to Copenhagen yesterday morning. Eight others were also from developing countries: Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea.

Venezuela’s left-wing president, Hugo Chávez, later complained that he had not been invited to participate in this meeting of “friends of the chair”, which he condemned as “a move that lacked a lot of transparency”. But in truth, it was characteristic of much of what happened at the Bella Centre yesterday.

Chávez, in a typically impassioned speech to the plenary session before lunch, excoriated Obama, branding him “the emperor who comes in the middle of the night and in the darkness, and in a most undemocratic way, cooks up a document that we will not accept and cannot accept”.

He gave no details of what was in the document, probably because he hadn’t seen it, but he believed it was “fraudulent”. And he wasn’t going to sign up.

“We cannot wait any longer, we are leaving. We reject any document that Obama slips under the door. We are leaving, knowing it wasn’t possible to reach agreement.”

The US president was playing hardball all day. He met the same group he had met earlier again, which included Australia, Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, Spain and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, and had one-to-one talks with others, notably Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao.

It was clear the US had its own agenda. As Obama said in his speech at the plenary session, what the US wanted was: (1) decisive action by all major economies to cut their emissions; (2) a mechanism to “review whether we are keeping our commitments”; and (3) finance to help “the least-developed and most vulnerable” countries. The EU was disappointed that Obama announced no increase in the US target, under which its emissions would fall by only 3 to 4 per cent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels, and equally disappointed that Wen did not announce more ambitious targets for China. Together, the US and China account for 50 per cent of global emissions. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was downbeat in his speech. “The EU is serious. We do not want to talk about processes and procedures. The time has come for others to deliver,” he said. And he made it clear he was referring in particular to the US and China; they had to “take responsibility”.

There were different views within the EU as the day wore on. Some member states felt they should increase the EU’s pledge to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 to 30 per cent, to encourage others to make a comparable commitment.

But since there was no sign that the US would do so, what would be the point? A senior British official summed up what was going on as “the bad guys pretending to be good, and the good guys pretending to be bad”.

China, an Irish source said, fell into the first category. “The Chinese cover themselves in the cloak of the G7 while pursuing their own agenda, effectively blocking things like having more transparency.”

By mid-afternoon, Greenpeace was complaining that Europe was “paralysed by indecision” when it had the power to make other players move. “If we want Copenhagen to mean something, Europe has to show some guts and stop taking a back seat in the negotiations. Otherwise, the summit could be one step away from collapse.”

Before 5pm, Reuters reported that a draft “Copenhagen accord” under discussion reaffirmed the goal of limiting the rise in temperatures to two degrees, but dropped any reference to an end-of-2010 deadline for concluding a legally binding treaty on the measures needed to achieve it; even that process would be open-ended.

It was clear then that the EU, which had always claimed a leadership role in the climate talks, was going to get nothing like the “ambitious and comprehensive” deal it wanted to come from Copenhagen – and that there was no guarantee that this would be forthcoming even at the 16th UN climate summit in Mexico next December.

The Irish Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009