Sunday, November 28

‘It gets incredibly strange’: behind the scenes of the COP26 climate summit


Exhausted bureaucrats are locked in all-night talks at the COP26 climate summit.

RNZ climate reporter Hamish Cardwell spoke to a COP veteran about the post-deadline madness after midnight.

Britain's COP26 President Alok Sharma speaks with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and other members of her team after an informal stocktaking session at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 12 of 2021.

Britain’s COP26 President Alok Sharma speaks with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and other members of her team after an informal stocktaking session at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 12 of 2021.
Photo: AFP

Oil Change International senior activist David Tong has been to most of the UN COP climate meetings in the last decade.

He said almost everyone is hitting deadlines, as this one did this morning, as negotiators and diplomats scrambled to reach an agreement.

All-night talks are currently taking place.

Tong said that at this stage of the summit, the talks could get very strange.

“Things get weird. In Durban (COP meeting in 2011), Venezuela’s chief negotiator stood in her chair and slapped a high-heeled shoe on her table saying ‘Venezuela … no … no. … will be ‘… bribed, Venezuela … will not … be … threatened, Venezuela … will not … support … this’.

“And then, three hours later, Venezuela voted in favor.”

Delegates speak at the People's Plenary during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow on November 12, 2021.

Delegates converse in the Popular Plenary during COP26 on November 12.
Photo: AFP

The stores begin to close and the coffee shops are dismantled, the negotiators subsist on chocolate and fruit.

“In Durban, I was queuing at the last coffee shop that was open behind a man, I don’t know where it was from, but it must have been French.

“Because when they said the cafeteria had run out of cheese, he said ‘but what am I going to have with my wine ?!'”

This tweet shows how long Friday’s previous COPs have passed at the end of the business day before a deal is reached.

Tong said that in Madrid in 2019, a comic convention was held in the other half of the conference center last weekend.

“So you had these incredibly tired negotiators and diplomats going through complete military security to be surrounded by Spanish comic book fans from Madrid dressed as superheroes.

“It gets incredibly strange.”

Decisions after the deadline are almost certainly worse for the environment

Back in the negotiating rooms, key diplomats huddle, while the Presidency (the host country of the meeting) pushes countries that disagree behind closed doors to discuss it.

Tong said Climate Minister James Shaw, who is co-leading the talks on transparency – essentially how to verify that countries are making the emissions cuts or financial contributions they claim – will strive to help the presidency reach consensus.

He said that several negotiators would fall asleep in their chairs.

And there would be a lot of empty chairs because negotiators, particularly from poorer countries with smaller teams and fewer resources, had to take flights home.

“An adviser from one of the Pacific countries told me … whatever is agreed on Friday, you should stay with Saturday.

“Because it only gets worse on Saturday because the voices of small countries are no longer represented.”

He said that while after the deadline the compromises that allow the final deal to occur are reached, it almost always leads to worse environmental outcomes than where things were before the deadline.

“[It is] negotiation for attrition “.




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