Victims of comfort
This being the last day of COP15, and the final hours of the final day, you would have thought it would be simply the finishing touches that they are putting on a final deal.
But of course not! This is the UNFCCC!
I am sitting in plenary at 5 in the morning
and that’s as far as I got! Soon after, the Lawyer from Kiribati who always visits our ‘office’ at the sofas, came to the back of plenary where Alex and I were propping ourselves up on the back wall, he looked much worse than us; his bloodshot and red-rimmed eyes betrayed the trials and tribulations of the last 2 days which meant he hadn’t slept for over 48 hours, except the odd nap- somewhere in the salubrious Bella Centre.
He wasn’t his usual cheery self.
After the initial comment of ‘we don’t usually expect our negotiators to stay this long-aimed at Alex and I- he sat himself down on the floor of plenary to have a break. He said he wished he could be rejoicing with us at this hour, rather than commiserating on what is a poignantly sad day….
We know for sure exactly what he refers to because we had experienced it only a few hours previously. Before spending the night at the Bella Centre we were invited to dine with the President of Kiribati at a traditional Indian restaurant in the middle of the city. 25 of us crowded in to one half of the restaurant, a hotch potch of Ozzies, New Zealanders, I-Kiribas and us Welsh! As instructed our team from UN fair play surrounded the President, and the space where his Wife would have sat if she were not still at the hotel unable to cope with the cold weather and snow. We soon learnt what was causing the permanently furrowed brow of the President; he was profoundly and unalterably angry and sad at the outcome of the negotiations. He had already given up on anything happening – even though the talks went on for another 12 hours-because although Copenhagen was the largest summit of world leaders ever, it was over. Presidents, Prime Ministers, dictators and excellencies had almost all left the Bella Centre at least 6 hours previous, meaning no snap and ambitious decisions that weren’t already on the table could have been made. We were back to civil servants and the remits they have been given.
To him it was crystal clear what this summit had meant. It had meant an opportunity for him to never have to break the reality of climate change to his people ( a truth he shades them from so as not cloud their culture of living in the moment and never planning more than a week ahead). He describes the arduousness of daily life as survival from day-to-day in itself, let alone with the added burden of catastrophic climate change on top. In fact, a particularly high tide on the night before he left for Copenhagen had washed away houses on the beach, as if he needed any more reminding.
The arrogance of world leaders who control rich and developed countries, thinking they can act solely on economy based arguments of gross domestic product (GDP) and good press, rather than for example, Gross National Happiness (GNH) had created an anger in the President that was evidently disturbing to himself. Disturbing because its an emotion so foreign to the I-Kiribati, they don’t do anger. As he said, it’s offensive to the countries who need help and support on the front line, for Developed countries to suggest they accept the money for adaptation otherwise they won’t agree to anything. It is quite literally putting a price on their future. No compromise on the targets of 350 and 1.5= no money tomorrow. Simple as that.
Never, not in Poznan, not in Bonn, have I ever seen the real life manifestation of what political power means. If I had my way, the person I was having dinner with would be the peak of political power thanks to his respect, dignity and hard work. However, as it stands Obama wielded his influence in the form of the fatal ‘accord’; Rudd of Australia bent nearby Island States to his crappy will because they need his blessing to migrate there; and countries like Africa and AOSIS members agreed to whatever got the adaptation funds flowing fastest. The idea of consensus is that it operates on a numbers basis-there is no hierarchy-anyone and everyone can contribute equally, and all should expect to be heard. The UNFCCC uses consensus to make decisions, nothing can be adopted by COP if it is not agreed on by every party to the convention. So why is it that this process has fallen victim to measuring how hard the hand can slap rather than just counting the hands?
Much as I love him there is a perfect example in the form of President Nasheed of the Maldives. He has committed his country to go carbon neutral by 2020, and he convened the first summit of vulnerable island nations. He shouts loud and clear at every opportunity for 350 and well below 1.5…..do they listen to him? No! He is seen as brazen and naive, even by fellow islanders. He is mocked for his enthusiasm, and like a child he cries out for simplicity and action on the truth. I love him. But he has zero political clout.
Despite the indescribable chasm of disappointment that COP15 opens up, the beautifully fragile tunes that they wove at the back of the Indian restaurant call out to me, and the eyes of the President frame my fight for the future because I know this injustice cannot go on, and the lives of these special and loyal people surely cannot be lost to the waves.