Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
Work smarter with a Pro licence Learn More
Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Geoff Keey: Anatomy of Failure

Anatomy of Failure

Submitted by Geoff Keey on Mon, 21/12/2009 - 13:32

It’s now the day after the end of the Copenhagen fiasco. After a day of reflection my assessment is the same. It was a massive failure of diplomacy brought about by two problems - a complete lack of ambition by developed country leaders, made worse by the excruciating incompetence of the Danish Prime Minister.

You deserve an explanation of how it all went wrong, and I haven’t yet seen a credible one from John Key, so here is mine instead.

I’ll start with the lesser of the two problems – the failure of the Danish government. During the small hours of Saturday morning I watched as the Danish Prime Minister Løkke Rasmussen embarrassed himself on the world stage by his incompetent chairing of the negotiations. It was like watching something scripted by Ricky Gervais. At times the negotiations descended into complete confusion by his erratic, biased and sometimes bizarre conduct. It was an historic moment for all the wrong reasons.

A Danish colleague of mine translated the subsequent Danish news headlines: Horror night for Løkke; Løkke in pillory at nightly summit-marathon; Mini-country pulls Løkke to the scaffold; This is where Løkke hits the wall; Løkke got beaten up all night...You get the idea...

But the problem with the Danish screw-ups really goes back a few months to conflict between Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard and her Ministry on one side and the Prime Minister and his office on the other. Eventually the Prime Minister won the conflict, took control of the process and that’s where the Danish leadership of the negotiations went off the rails. He flew round the world driving down ambitions and developing a new negotiating text in secret.

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

While I have a enormous respect for New Zealand’s climate change Ambassador Adrian Macey, I’d have to describe his blame of the United Nations process as a cop out. The main negotiations were a ‘party driven process’ that is, a process driven by the countries themselves, not the United Nations. Over the course of three Bonn meetings, a Bangkok meeting and a Barcelona meeting, countries refused to give the diplomats chairing the negotiations a mandate to move things forward.

The biggest barrier to moving things forward was the lack of progress on developed countries’ emission reduction targets. New Zealand was particularly bad in this respect, failing to meet the deadlines it promised in Poznan last year to meet, and so has to take some responsibility for the subsequent fiasco.

As the final talks began, developed country targets remained very low and offers of finance, apart from a small amount of start-up finance, remained vague. Yet these were the key to getting progress in the negotiations.

Unsurprisingly the lead-up and start of Copenhagen saw a hefty propaganda attack on developing countries by developed countries. From Copenhagen it looked like a deliberate effort to shift the focus away from the failure of developed countries to come to the table with anything credible.

In New Zealand this attack took the form of a stinging public attacks on not only developing countries, but also on Greenpeace by the Climate Change Negotiations Minister Tim Groser. In one interview he blatantly misrepresented Greenpeace’s position on what developing country actions should be doing and said we were ignoring science by saying developing countries shouldn’t do anything. I outlined our actual position when I met up the Minister in Copenhagen - which is that developing countries should reduce the growth in their emissions by 15-30% below business as usual - and invited him to explain what was wrong with it. He had no answer.

During the first week of the talks, the leak of the Danish text meant a great amount of confusion as countries tried to work out exactly what they were supposed to be negotiating. On the positive side, it finally spurred a drive from the chairs of the formal negotiations to drastically tidy up the negotiating text into a better form for making decisions.

Although the new negotiating text wasn’t perfect, it did offer the opportunity for a breakthrough as it was short and covered most of the main points in the negotiations. At this stage people became far more positive about the negotiations. Sadly this was not to last.

As the new negotiating text was about to be handed from diplomats to environment ministers, everyone got a nasty surprise. The United States ambushed what was supposed to be a 15-20 minute formal hand-over process with large string of demands to weaken the obligations on developed countries and toughen obligations on developing countries. Unsurprisingly the negotiations descended into chaos.

The United States was effectively trying to negotiate directly with the chair of the negotiations and shut out most of the rest of the world. This created a 9-10 hour period of confusion that ran from around 7pm on Friday night until early Saturday morning. There were hurried meetings between diplomats who shuttled backwards and forwards from room to room while everyone else did their best to find out what was going on.

Eventually, the US was able to add its changes to the text. This was the first real disaster of the talks because once the US insisted on its right to make changes, so did a great many other countries. The nice tidy text became a complete mess. While this was going on, I became so tired and dismayed that I eventually slept on chairs in the plenary hall. It retrospect, it looks very much like a deliberate exercise in diplomatic sabotage by the US.

Attacks on small developing countries by New Zealand increased during the second week after they started pushing hard for a binding treaty. I was astonished by an interview of Tim Groser where he accused the world’s most vulnerable countries of extremist tactics – when they were merely trying to prevent the destruction of their own lands and people.

Progress in the formal talks remained slow following the US ambush as the negotiating text was no longer in a fit state for ministers to make decisions. As a result, leaders arrived with the talks in a perilous state.

What leaders would do over the next few hours would determine the outcome. This is where leaders failed. It was painfully obvious that most developed countries were completely unwilling to make serious offers of emissions cuts or financing, but were intent on pushing developing countries into binding commitments. This was not going to happen.

The balance of effort outlined by the IPCC for 2020 is that developed countries should cut emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and that developing countries should reduce the growth in their emissions by 15-30% below business as usual. Developing country pledges were approaching 28% below business as usual and in the upper range of what was expected, but developed countries pledges were only between 10-17%, not even approaching the range of what was expected.

A small group of leaders (excluding New Zealand) met to cobble together a deal in fairly dire circumstances. Various drafts of the proposed deal rapidly leaked out to media and NGOs, but soon the number of drafts became confusing and no-one observing the talks could work out which came first and which was the latest draft.

The US President Obama arrived and met with Chinese Premier Wen. A bottom line for the US was that China would agree to international verification/monitoring of its emission reductions, but it appears Obama had nothing to offer in return so the meeting failed.

Obama then publicly bashed China in the open plenary in front of the media, although being careful to not name China. Premier Wen was rumoured to be infuriated. By this stage the growing numbers of rumours floating around was only matching by growing despair.

Under pressure to agree to some kind of deal, President Obama and Premier Wen met again and agreed on a deal in association with some key developing countries. Many other leaders, possibly most, only found out the deal was done via the media. The deal became the Copenhagen Accord and was then foisted on the rest of the world through a mix of backroom lobbying between countries and shambolic chairing by Prime Minister Rasmussen.

And after all that, no one really knows what the Copenhagen Accord means, except that it is pathetic. Under the Accord, emission reductions from developed countries are so low that, unless the deal is soon superceded by much stronger emission cuts, millions of vulnerable people in the world will be condemned to an early, avoidable death and whole countries are going to be wiped off the earth.

While this is an utter disgrace, its not the end and there is hope. The formal negotiations have been kept alive in spite of this deal and the deal has only been ‘noted’ rather than ‘adopted.’ This gives the chance to put this fiasco behind us.

We’ll all need to battle on again next year to increase the pressure on leaders. Even though I’m sleep deprived, exhausted and very disappointed, I’m up for another crack at this. I hope you are too.

We will win out in the end, and hopefully it won’t be too late.


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
Top Scoops Headlines


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.