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Our Man in Warsaw: Day 7 - There's always a period of despair

22 November 2013 | Viewpoint
COP19 - 'polluters talk, we walk'

Jeff Beyer is our man in Warsaw, representing the Carbon Trust at a number of events taking place alongside the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland, and reporting back with his own perspective on what is taking place

It’s just after 1:00 a.m. as I write this, and it’s been a difficult day. You could taste the despondence that hung in the air as tired country representatives scuttled through corridors, exchanged funerary nods, and scarfed a quick meal before being dragged back to negotiations by iPhone texts they didn’t really want to receive.

I’ve been to a couple COPs before, and the penultimate day usually seems the worst. People are starting to utter that dreaded word “Copenhagen,” which, in the context of UN climate negotiations is a synonym for catastrophe. (That city-that-must-not-be-named hosted the much-vaunted 2009 UN climate change conference that ended in bitter failure and set back the negotiations 5-10 years.)

A few events have led up to this moment, which are worth recounting.

On Monday and Tuesday, without a hint of irony, Warsaw hosted the Coal and Climate Summit, which brought together leaders from the world’s largest coal-producing companies, among others. It felt a bit incongruent next to the kind of transformative change that everyone at COP says is so urgent.

On Wednesday, Poland’s Prime Minister unbelievably sacked the Environment Minister, Marcin Korolec, who was also the President presiding over this UN summit (what?!). The purported reason? Foot-dragging on regulations for exploration of shale gas and other fossil fuels.

Yesterday, an enormous coalition of NGOs staged a walkout, saying “polluters talk, we walk.” The NGO booths around the stadium, which had been teeming with reps eager to share information, were ominously deserted yesterday afternoon. Forgotten pamphlets lay scattered on the floor and tape hung from hastily torn down displays. The stadium felt hollow.

Most high-level country delegates were conspicuously absent from side events, too. Name placards rested in front of empty chairs as politicians and negotiators locked themselves away, trying to hammer out deals in hidden rooms. 

While she took a much-deserved break, I had a chance to share lunch with Slovenia's State Secretary for the Environment, Ms. Andreja Jerina, who’s their lead negotiator and who’s no stranger to these conferences. “There's always a period of despair,” she said. “Today we've hit that period.”

I just found out that about an hour ago (it’s 2:40 a.m. now – yes, I’m a slow writer), today’s important session, the Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), was closed after negotiators hit an impasse. The mandate of the ADP is to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties – essentially, to deliver the ‘big agreement’ in Paris in 2015. That little thing was just postponed.

So it looks like these negotiations might need to be extended a bit. Good thing I booked a late flight. 

(8:00 a.m. update: ADP published some draft decisions early this morning, which are diplomat-speak for “not much happened.” Back to the stadium for me.) 

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