Climate negotiators torn by opposing fears

BONN • 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 do not 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, France, in December are haunted by another fear subtly nudging them in the other direction: failure.

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

The last time the world tried to craft a "last chance" universal climate pact - in Copenhagen, Denmark, 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, Germany, and something of a mantra for the organisers of the Nov 30-Dec 11 conference in the French capital.

And yet progress has been incremental and painfully slow.

Negotiators left Bonn last Friday after a week of closed-door meetings with little to show and a draft agreement "not fit for a negotiation", in the words of the European Commission's top negotiator, Ms 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.

"You have a very tight brief coming here from your ministers and capitals that you can't go beyond," said Mr Alden Meyer, a veteran climate analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "That kind of dynamic can impede creativity and the ability to break through boxes to interesting solutions."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'Climate negotiators torn by opposing fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe