UN climate talks plagued by twin fears

Negotiators from 195 nations tasked with crafting a universal climate pact are driven by twin fears tugging in opposite directions, which may result in a hollow deal, say analysts.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 05, 2015, 23:34 PM IST

Bonn (Germany): Negotiators from 195 nations tasked with crafting a universal climate pact are driven by twin fears tugging in opposite directions, which may result in a hollow deal, say analysts.

The all-too-real prospect of climate catastrophe on a horizon of decades, not centuries, coupled with a rising tide of expectations, would seem to be powerful incentives to forge an agreement that is truly up to the task.

Science makes it clear that the laissez-faire alternative is a climate-addled future of mega-storms, drought, water wars and mass migration.

It is also a reminder that the window of opportunity for acting is barely ajar - if human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases don't peak very soon and drop very swiftly, it may soon slam shut.

At the same time, however, career diplomats - and their political bosses - working on the nitty-gritty of the deal to be inked in Paris in December are haunted by another fear subtly nudging them in the opposite direction: the fear of failure.

"Our concern is that we will end up with a lowest common denominator, where everybody just agrees on the least ambitious options," said Li Shuo of Greenpeace China.

The last time the world tried to craft a "last chance" universal climate pact - in Copenhagen, in 2009 - it ended in tears, with more than 110 unhappy heads of state scrambling in overtime to piece together a three-page, face-saving "declaration" instead.

"Not repeating the mistakes of Copenhagen" is a common refrain at the talks in Bonn, and something of a mantra for the organisers of the November 30-December 11 conference in the French capital.

And yet, progress has been incremental and painfully slow.

Negotiators left the former East German capital yesterday after a week of closed-door meetings with very little to show and a draft agreement "not fit for a negotiation," in the words of the European Commission's top negotiator, Elina Bardram.

But it is unfair, analysts say, to place too much blame on rank-and-file diplomats, themselves deeply frustrated to have made so little headway with only five negotiating days left before the main event in Paris.

Without clear instructions from their ministers and, at the top of the political food chain, state leaders, they can only go so far in removing the logjams that have beleaguered climate talks for years.

"You have a very tight brief coming here from your ministers and capitals that you can't go beyond," said Alden Meyer, a veteran climate analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.