Haunted by Copenhagen

Regional negotiator sceptical about outcome of global climate talks in Paris

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor -- features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

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THE year was 2009. Chaos loomed outside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many people were unable to enter the venue of the 15th UN summit on climate change and were left standing in the cold.

To make matters worse, they were left disappointed as negotiations for a legally binding agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and keep global temperature rise this century to 1.5C did not materialise.

Instead, after eight draft texts and all-day talks among 115 world leaders, the Copenhagen accord - a political agreement that made no reference to either -- was produced.

It was a real blow for climate negotiators from small island states like those in the Caribbean, which is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and other climate shocks since it makes a significant chunk of its earnings from sea-related industries such as tourism and fishing.

Six years later, and as preparations for the 21st summit scheduled for Paris in December get into high gear, the situation still haunts people like climate negotiator on behalf of the Government of Grenada Dr Spencer Thomas.

The summit is officially called Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- COP 21.

"We had a situation in Copenhagen that is still bothering a lot of people because they feel that we are going to have a second round of Copenhagen in Paris," Dr Thomas told the Jamaica Observer at a climate change meeting in St Lucia nearly two weeks ago.

"We left the COP with an agreement that many people have not agreed with. They accepted it, and then they spent the next couple years trying to unravel what they have; what they agreed to, so we could have the same situation coming out of Paris," he continued.

The Copenhagen experience aside, Dr Thomas explained that the slow pace of the negotiations to date has fuelled his scepticism of a good outcome from the Paris talks. Preparatory meetings have so far been convened in Bonn and Geneva.

Caricom, which negotiates as part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which in turn negotiates under the Group of 77 and China, is seeking to have a legally binding agreement in which developed countries commit to cutting their emissions, limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C, and putting up sums to help developing countries adapt to and recover from exposure to severe climate events like longer periods of drought, more intense and more frequent hurricanes, and coastal erosion from sea-level rise.

"My difficulty is that we are very slow in the negotiations right now towards COP," Thomas told the Observer, adding that the progress since last year's summit in Lima, Peru, has been less than satisfactory.

"We are not getting to any clarity in the definition of what we need in Paris. If we spend so much time in the preparation meetings and we're not making progress, I am at a loss as to what progress we can make at those substantive issues in Paris itself.

"The global community is seeking to determine the nature of the agreement that we are going to have in Paris, is it legally binding? Is it an agreement in legal form? Is it a legal outcome? Also, who will be involved in the agreement? Who will eventually sign those agreements? I think all these things are up in the air," he continued.

He said members of Caricom have a very clear position going into the global summit and are not hobbled by the fact that they have far fewer negotiators than the developed countries since they don't negotiate individually.

"We know that we have a deficit in numbers but that is not all because we have to have more preparation and we have to organise ourselves better so what we have been doing in Caricom and among the Small Island Developing States is ensuring that we work as a cohesive unit. We share the load among all the participants. We have specialists who can speak on very specific subjects and we have generalists who can speak on all subjects," Dr Thomas declared.

He made reference there to technical officer in the Climate Change Division of Jamaica's environment Ministry Dr Orville Grey who is part of the region's negotiating team.

"We know what we are looking for, we know what we want, and we know what the strategies are that we are going to use to get there. The question is: Are we going to get there? And are we going to accept whatever comes out of Paris or will we reject it?" Dr Thomas articulated.

The climate specialist said the outcome of the St Lucia meeting, which was organised by the Ministry of Sustainable Development in that country, Panos Caribbean, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean), and other partners with a view to drafting a regional awareness strategy in the run-up to COP 21, was a glimmer of hope.

"I'm very sceptical of the outcome of Paris at this time, but at the same time, I want to underscore that a lot of good things are happening for climate change at the local level and the national level in some countries, so all is not lost," he admitted.

Asked what he thought the possible outcome of Paris would be, Thomas said:

" I think there are some countries that will not accept an agreement that will not suit their particular country; both developed and developing countries. For example, I believe that if some countries get what they think want, other countries are going to say that is not what they want. And we will have a situation where nobody will be satisfied and I think if we come to the point where no one is satisfied, we will come out of Paris with an agreement that everyone will sign on to."

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