/ 6 October 2009

Secrecy prevails at Bangkok climate talks

You might think the armies of civil servants negotiating the future of Mother Earth would be keen to tell people how the talks are going. No. Here in sweaty Bangkok and the chilly air-conditioned UN centre, it’s cool to be secretive. We the people — that is the press, the NGOs, even business — are not allowed to see or hear any of the negotiating sessions. And our EU leaders plan just one short session with the world’s media on Friday afternoon when the talks here finish.

Seeing as the EU stands accused by the developing world of jeopardising the whole shebang by siding with the United States to sabotage the Kyoto protocol, perhaps secrecy is their only option.

Even the big NGOs like to be close to power and to be secret. Earlier today, the US called an impromptu open meeting to discuss the talks so far, but the Guardian, along with other press here was thrown out. “On what basis does the US refuse to tell the world what it is deciding?” we asked. The US representatives looked embarrassed and shrugged. But when the NGOs were asked if they wanted the media to be allowed to stay, they too declined. So much for civil society, which gets ever cosier with its masters.

So, here is the official state of play with just a few weeks to go until the final round of talks which begin in Copenhagen on 7 December. So far, the UN has said rich countries need to cut their emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) to stay within the 2°C rise which the scientists say is the upper limit of what Earth can take. But the UNFCCC secretariat (the people running the climate talks) reckons that the combined cut from pledges made by rich countries so far adds up to just 16% to 23% — and that’s excluding any cuts made by the US.

The Alliance of Small Island States (made up of the countries who stand to be drowned in a few years and which have as their motto: “1,5 to stay alive”) say that if the US joins in with its expected target of about 4% to 10%, that would give an aggregate global cut of just 11% to 18% in emissions. If so, that means that we, the rich, intend to cut our emissions by a measly 6% more than what we pledged — but failed to reach in 2002. And with carbon offsets — which we can pass on to poor countries — that means we need do next to nothing at all at home. Indeed, we could probably increase emissions and carry on building coal power plants. No wonder the EU and rich countries are hiding from the press and the developing countries are furious!

Quote of the conference so far comes from ambassador Yu Qingtai, China’s special representative on climate talks. When asked to do a stock-taking exercise to see how far the talks had come, he said succinctly: “Unfortunately there is hardly any stock to take.”

Tragically, one Filipino delegate has had a very personal reminder of the effects of climate change. Her house was wiped out last week in the floods that hit the capital Manila, the worst in the country’s history. – guardian.co.uk