Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Tuvalu objects, repeatedly and with determination, and the main business of the Copenhagen conference is suspended. OK, it’s almost lunchtime and a temporary suspension allows time for private discussions about the issue - which is what the conference president had in any case requested - but it’s still a moment of drama.

The collection of Pacific islands that make up Tuvalu are about as small as you get by the standards of a nation state, but they are terminally threatened by rising sea levels so Tuvalu has huge moral authority. Decisions at the conference are taken by consensus and it’s good to know that one objection strongly expressed can make a difference. (It’s good to know, that is, so long as the objections come from nations that want an ambitious and binding outcome from the negotiations. But they are not the only ones who can shout “object!”).

Tuvalu and its backers wanted a ‘contact group’ established to discuss in the open ways of introducing measures to ensure that any agreement reached is legally binding and can help ensure that decisions taken in Copenhagen are implemented . The idea of having such open debate was vigorously opposed by Saudi Arabia and India.

The president must have known of the potential for controversy because she proposed that the issue be taken forward by way of ‘private consultations’ with the various governments. But the Alliance of Small Island States smelt a stitch up, and they had the backing of all those who wanted to remind everyone about the USA’s failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which does include a series of measures to secure implementation of the agreement from its signatories.

So the conference was suspended, to be resumed at 3pm after consultations had taken place about the best way of consulting on this issue.

If that sounds arcane you may have forgotten that this conference and the UNFCCC process of combating global warming has as many layers as an onion. 3pm came, and the president announced that the consultations had not yet secured an agreement. So COP15, the 15th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, remained suspended.

Instead we turned to the agenda of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which is not quite the same thing, and business continued.

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