Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Crossing Swords in Bonn

It wasn't what US negotiator Daniel Reifsnyder was most hoping to hear. Reifsnyder, who has spent 20 years as a US climate diplomat, has the hot-seat position of co-chair of the UNFCCC committee charged with presenting a manageable draft agreement to the Paris conference in less than six weeks. That document ballooned with hundreds of pages of concerns mostly of the so-called G77 less developed countries + China (actually more than 130 of them), who are lobbying for stronger contributions from wealthier nations. After last summer's difficult session in Bonn, Reifsnyder and his co-chair, Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria, agreed to undertake the draft reduction themselves, promising to bring it back to the plenary group of 195 nations in Bonn this week. Yesterday was the official plenary review of that pared-down draft.

Nozipho Mxacato-Diseko, an Oxford-educated, formidable diplomat from South Africa who chairs the G77, immediately challenged Reifsnyder's omission of key elements, and she did so in a particularly challenging fashion: she told him and the room she was reminded of the apartheid regime, when black Africans like herself were required to prove why they should be allowed to vote. "In essence we are disenfranchised, and have to negotiate our way back into the process," she summed up. With broad support from her caucus, she led a two-hour procedural debate, never mind the brevity of meeting time left to refine the document.

Described as "genial," Reifsnyder can't have been happy to be compared to the authoritarian apartheid regime. But setting aside the rhetoric, the exchange points to what may be a constant theme in Paris: the draft was shortened because the demands of the needier--and far less complicit in climate change--nations are many. The Geneva draft was a compendium of those demands, and it went on and on. To make a streamlined version is to revert to broad principles while neglecting the substantial details that will encourage the world's poorer nations to feel some trust in the process.

And if they don't? The EU, the US and other developed nations may still see it in their interest to reduce carbon emissions--and even Canada and Australia, with less intransigent governments in place, may join them. But will the giants--India and China in particular? The G77 consensus has been an important vehicle for bringing China to the table--and an unresolved dispute in Paris may send them away again, and will certainly encourage India to pursue its non-compliant policies.

So Ms. Mxacato-Disenko speaks not only for the discredited past of her country but for a global future. If she feels disenfranchised, we should all be worried.

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