Scandinavian efficiency goes AWOL

ChinaDialogue’s Isabel Hilton on how to make a critical situation desperate:

Step 1: Take the most ambitious and important world summit ever, invite the press, global civil society, advisors, security men and women, activists, nuns, monks, philosophers and scientists, put them in a conference centre that can only accommodate one-third of them

Step 2: Tell the NGOs that only three out of their list of up to 50 registered participants will be able to get in, and that to do so they need not one, but two passes. Make several thousand of them re-register. Then close the registration over the busiest weekend on Saturday afternoon; take the whole of Sunday off, so none of the new arrivals can register.

Step 3: If you have followed steps 1 and 2 above, you should have a situation of maximum confusion and enormous queues by early Monday morning. If, however, insufficient chaos has been caused, try this: restrict access to the site to one narrow gate through which everyone – registered, unregistered and those requiring re-registration need to pass. Ensure they are thoroughly mixed up, so that even those with valid passes cannot get in because they cannot reach the gate.

That works. At least it worked so well this morning that everyone, from Rajendra Pachauri to a contingent of Turkish negotiators were stranded along with everyone else. 

Though in fairness to the Danes, not sure how many conference centres there are can easily hold 40,000 people. Now if they used a stadium, on the other hand… presto! Every NGO can be in the plenary!

“Just then, the state of British domestic political debate looked a bit shameful”

Last time we caught up with Charlemagne over at the EU heads’ meeting in Brussels, he and his fellow hacks were sniggering about some unfortunate new acronyms. As the summit drew to a close last night, he and the gang were still chuckling away (what a jolly place Brussels sounds to be) – this time at Gordon Brown’s breezy assertion to a joint press conference with the French President that “Nicolas Sarkozy is one of my best friends”.

Amid the general hilarity, though, his concluding observation was interesting:

Mr Sarkozy came across as the bigger man, full stop. At his worst, Mr Sarkozy can be maddening: playing fast and loose with the facts, bullying, cynical and boastful to the point of parody. At his best, he is a politician with a genius for seeing what is important, and detecting the moment for action.

The good Sarkozy came over today. A visiting political reporter from a British television station asked a question. Transferring money to the developing world to help them with climate change might be the right thing to do morally, he said to Mr Brown and Mr Sarkozy. But was it not time to be “honest with voters” about the cost of these measures, and their impact on growth and the economy, he asked, especially at this moment when the markets’ confidence in [Mr Brown’s] economic management was collapsing?

Mr Brown gave a defensive answer about new green services and industries, which would create 400,000 new jobs in Britain. Mr Sarkozy looked at the British reporter as if the man had just coughed up a hairball.

“What is the alternative?” the French president asked. “Think about it. monsieur. What if the richest countries do nothing to help Africa to develop… What if there were no deal at Copenhagen? You think that will not cost our economies dearly? Between Europe and Africa, the Straits of Gibraltar are 12km wide. You think we can leave them in that poverty? You think that won’t cost a lot of money? I’ll tell you what costs money, monsieur: it’s doing nothing. What causes a crisis, is the failure to act.”

In his obsession with costs, the television reporter was no doubt accurately reflecting a good chunk of British public opinion. His question will certainly not have surprised Mr Brown in the least, as was reflected in the prime minister’s reply about the profits to be made from green technology.

I admit that I am not always convinced by French arguments in favour of more public spending. But just then, the state of British domestic political debate looked a bit shameful: small-minded, chiselling, money-obsessed and generally lacking in strategic vision. Mr Sarkozy looked pretty unimpressed, and he had a point.

A rough guide to Copenfailure (part 3)

In a couple of previous posts (1, 2), Alex has been looking at how and why Copenhagen might fail – but here’s a fresh question: what’s the difference between a bad and a good failure?

Not all failures are equal, clearly. Some outcomes boost the prospects of eventual success. Others will push the climate process towards semi-permanent dysfunction, an equilibrium that will probably only be shifted by future climate catastrophe.

Good and bad outcomes do not split neatly across our scenarios for failure. Neither will they necessarily be immediately obvious to climate insiders, whose judgement is (understandably) swayed by optimism bias (success is always just around the corner) and a partiality for politeness strategies (obfuscating red lines with technical language; not tackling opponents in public, etc).

Bali #2 – a high level political declaration with little real substance – could be a good deal, and will almost certainly be heralded as such by governments keen to garner good headlines. But there’s a strong chance that it’s simply the prelude to future failure – especially if:

(i) Healthcare continues to block the path to a US Senate bill; (ii) there is ambiguity between countries on the eventual legal status of a deal; (iii) the US and China are at loggerheads, or are huddling in a low ambition coalition; (iv) obvious bear traps – especially Monitoring, Reporting and Verification  – have not been cleared away; or (v) the roadmap to an agreement has no clear timetable or a timetable based on more than wishful thinking.

If enough of these conditions are met, then all Bali #2 does is to defer failure to a bis follow-up – or, more likely, all the way through to the COP16 summit in December 2010. Given wriggle room, the Senate will not able to resist elbowing its way into the talks, larding its Bill with conditions designed to provoke the Chinese, while undermining Obama’s primacy in international negotiations.

Pro-deal campaigners may well let up the pressure, their funds and momentum exhausted by a premature push at Copenhagen. The anti-climate lobby, in contrast, will be energised by blood in the water – and will attract additional funding as a result. Even if a deal is sealed in the spring, the process will still not be out of the woods – as we discuss in our Death by Climatocracy scenario).

Bad Deal is the worst possible outcome.  If overall targets for developed countries are either non-existent or well below the 25-40% reduction beneath 1990 levels needed by 2020, and if there’s no clear resolution of the long term position of developing countries, then valuable political bandwidth has been expended on a deal that simply isn’t up to the job.

Advocates of a serious deal will then have no option other than to ‘go into opposition’ and exert continued pressure against the status quo – although European countries in particular will be sorely tempted to play along, pretending that the deal, however weak, gives the world something to build on.

Car Crash is the most difficult scenario to judge. It will grab headlines, and horrify insiders. But if negotiators must stare into the abyss, it is surely better that they do so at Copenhagen, rather than at the bis, in Mexico in a years’ time, or on the road to implementation in 2012. Indeed, breakdown at Copenhagen could actually be cathartic and help to tee up more ambitious action. Crucially, though, this will only happen if:

– The crash is spectacular, and clarifies differences between countries – thus catalysing a long-overdue discussion about the principles that must underpin a global deal.

– The ‘last straw’ is a totemic issue that can subsequently be tackled and seen to be resolved.  By contrast, the crash must not be over some abstruse technical point that the media can’t explain (as for instance when WTO trade talks collapsed over the obscure Special Safeguard Mechanism in July last year).

– Leaders are confronted by their personal responsibility for a failure of imagination that history is certain to judge harshly.

    Next up – how to respond to failure…

    Copenhagen “in disarray”? Don’t believe the hype

    The Guardian’s leading with a rather breathless piece this evening on how the Copenhagen talks are

    … in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

    The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals

    The article’s author, John Vidal, also says he’s seen a “confidential analysis of the text by developing countries” , which he says argues that the draft text will “force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts”, “divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called ‘the most vulnerable'”, and “not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes”. Vidal continues that,

    Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.

    But having read the full draft negotiating text (also on the Guardian site, here – and n.b. there’s no proof it’s genuine) Vidal’s article seems weirdly off beam.

    For one thing, the text says nothing whatsoever about having different per capita allocations in 2050 for rich and poor countries. On the contrary, it explicitly says that “Parties’ contributions towards the goal [of limiting warming to 2 degrees C] should take into account … a long term convergence of per capita emissions”. Admittedly, the text doesn’t say anything about the convergence date, and it also falls into the trap of talking about convergence of emissions as opposed to convergence of emission entitlements (explanation here) – but there is no reference to enshrining unequal allocations.

    As to the other stuff about “forcing” developing countries to take on emission cuts or “dividing” them by talking about the idea that some are more vulnerable than others: oh, come on. Continue reading

    Why are environmental NGOs pushing for a later peak emissions year than the IPCC?

    As we’ve been arguing here since March, the year that policymakers select as the deadline for global emissions must peak is the key short-term variable to watch at Copenhagen. So what is the deadline, assuming we want to limit global average warming to 2 degrees C?

    Well, David and I would like to see policymakers agree that emissions should peak right now, given that emissions have fallen so much as a result of the credit crunch. The development NGOs who are most active on climate change – Oxfam, Christian Aid and Tearfund, as well as Avaaz – are a little more cautious than that, arguing that emissions should peak by 2015; but they’re still basically on the same page as the IPCC, which said in its last Assessment Report (pdf – see table at the foot of page 15) that to limit global average warming between 2.0 and 2.4 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak between 2000 and 2015.  Chair of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri has also said that 2015 is the deadline.

    Astonishingly, though, the main federation of environmental NGOs – the Climate Action Network – says that any time up to 2017 is fine. WWF International agree. TckTckTck used to say 2017 too (as I noted when they published their policy position); they’ve subsequently revised their target to 2015, but still have documents on their website using the old date. (Nothing like a consistent message, eh?)

    Be very clear: this isn’t just hair-splitting. Once the peak date for emissions slides beyond 2015 and towards 2020, according to the IPCC, we’re heading for a world that’s not 2.0-2.4 degrees C warmer, but 2.4-2.8 degrees C. That is what the environmental NGOs are arguing for. Shortly before they spend a fortnight calling everyone else at the Copenhagen summit “fossil of the day“. It’s breathtaking.

    So, if you can’t make it to the summit but still want a way to take action and make your voice heard ahead of Copenhagen, how about this. First thing on Monday, get in touch with any environmental NGOs you support.  Ask them their position on the global peak emissions date. And if it’s any later than 2015, then cancel your subscription.

    I’m not kidding. Policymakers aren’t the only ones at Copenhagen who need to be held to account. If the green NGOs can’t get their figures right on something this fundamental, this basic (even as the development NGOs manage it just fine) then they need to – what’s that phrase from the Bali summit? – “leave it to the rest of us; please, get out of the way“.

    Welcome to Gropenhagen

    Newsflash just in from Der Spiegel:

    Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards to city hotels warning summit guests not to patronize Danish sex workers during the upcoming conference. Now, the prostitutes have struck back, offering free sex to anyone who produces one of the warnings.

    Copenhagen’s city council in conjunction with Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards out to 160 Copenhagen hotels urging COP15 guests and delegates to ‘Be sustainable – don’t buy sex’. “Dear hotel owner, we would like to urge you not to arrange contacts between hotel guests and prostitutes,” the approach to hotels says.

    Now, Copenhagen prostitutes are up in arms, saying that the council has no business meddling in their affairs. They have now offered free sex to anyone who can produce one of the offending postcards and their COP15 identity card, according to the Web site avisen.dk.

    Full marks for feistiness, tactical judgement and PR aplomb there, then. If this is any indication of the kind of screw-you approach the Danes will be taking to chairing the summit, then we’re in good hands. So to speak.

    A rough guide to Copenfailure (part 2)

    Yesterday I published a post looking at how the Copenhagen climate summit might fail. Today: why it might fail.  David and I have identified seven main drivers that could potentially lead to breakdown at Copenhagen – either alone or in combination with each other – as follows:

    The US runs out of timeSuppose that other countries judge that Healthcare looks set to pass early in the new year, leaving the Senate clear to agree a climate bill not long afterwards. In this scenario, while a deal isn’t doable at Copenhagen, countries could still leave the summit believing prospects are good for a follow-up (a ‘bis’ in the jargon) – with no need for significant changes of approach or tactics. (Conversely, if countries think that healthcare is far from being settled, they might judge that with mid-terms looming during 2010, US assurances of domestic climate legislation are not credible – leaving Obama looking weakened.)

    There isn’t enough shared awareness. In this scenario, the problem is simply that Parties weren’t frank enough with each other ahead of Copenhagen. While an ambitious deal does remain feasible, much more robust engagement is needed to bash out the fundamentals – especially between the US and China. (An alternative variant of this scenario would be that Parties’ willingness to deal becomes drowned by the sheer level of detail, so that the summit concludes with little clarity on who supports each element of an eventual deal.)

    The fundamentals unravel. The US does its best to kill Kyoto. China won’t budge on targets (however fuzzy). The EU is incoherent, weak or simply unable to impose clarity. The G77 continues to slow the pace of negotiations, staging boycotts or walking out. Every time one outstanding issue seems solved, another pops up elsewhere in the text. Delegates leave Denmark unable to see even the outline of a deal.

    China yet to come of age. China acts true to type as “a big power with a medium power mindset, and a small power chip on its shoulder” (the phrase is the Economist‘s). It plays to the G77 gallery, while failing either to make the UNFCCC process work for it or to take on a leadership role that could prod the US towards a deal.  Or, on a similar note…

    The G77 turns toxic. The G77, which came close to an eleventh hour split at Bali, has a turbulent time at Copenhagen, with the ‘national survival’ faction and ‘economic growth’ factions at each others’ throats. Unity is maintained by lashing out at Annex 1 countries.

    Blockers prevail. Saudi Arabia flies in under the radar to stop the talks reaching an endgame (the general suspicion in the climate process is that instructions from Riyadh tel negotiators to do as much as they can to undermine a deal without going so far as to be identified publicly as the cause of a failure). Or Russia plays its customary volatile role. Or Canada responds to the logic of its terrible domestic position on emissions.

    But here’s the one that’s arguably most likely, and maybe most worrying:

    Neither the US nor China are ready to deal seriously. The US and China could agree between themselves to settle for a low-ambition deal, maybe based on national ‘pledge-and-review’ rather than on binding targets and timetables – in the process leaving Europe and other proponents of a serious deal outflanked and on the sidelines.

    More on that in the next post. But for now, here’s something to reflect on: 

    According to the last IPCC report, stabilising global average warming at 2.0 – 2.4 degrees C means that CO2 concentrations must be limited to 350-400 ppm, and concentrations for all greenhouse gases at 445-490 ppm.

    In fact, though, as an analysis out this morning from Climate Analytics and Ecofys shows, the emission commitments and pledges put forward by countries in the run-up to the summit put the world on track for CO2 concentrations of 650 ppm; total greenhouse gas concentrations of 800 ppm; and global warming of well over 3 degrees C.