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Our Insights 9 Dec 2011

PA to the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change? Who? Me?

By Geoff Lye

This is fifth in a series of posts about and from COP 17. Others in the series can be found here: one, two, three, four, six, and seven.

One of the joys of COPs is that strange things happen which make you realize that these grand UN events are as vulnerable to human foibles as a local school fete. I stayed on (and on) at the conference centre to join a business briefing by Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change. He is a very approachable man of huge integrity whom I first met in Bali at COP 13 when he was still at WRI. When he was later sworn in to his new position as US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change under the Obama administration, I was delighted.

So, his briefing was fixed for 4.00 pm. And shortly before that, for 4.15 pm. And then for 6.30 pm, ‘location to be advised’. At 6.25 pm, I was wandering the main conference concourse looking for an email or events’ screen information on where it was happening. I looked up and there he was. ‘Jonathan?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘I think you are about to to brief the business community here, but we do not know which room it is in.’ ‘Interesting,’ he said as he shook my hand, ‘but I don’t know either.’ We were both scrolling through Blackberries (his) and iPhones my (mine) when I spotted that the business community were being told it was now delayed until 7.30 pm (‘location to be announced’). His Blackberry suggested it was now – and in a room in another building. We headed at speed in the rain to the new location and found it locked (sadly, I do not have a picture of the small band of followers crouched under an archway wondering what to do next). I had meanwhile emailed the BINGO (Business NGOs) coordinator with our location and another 10 people appeared. We were let into the Hluhluwe room and Jonathan started his de-brief – firing off observations on the latest status in a speed appropriate to his Pershing surname.

He is definitely a good man trying to find a positive outcome here in Durban – but with his hands tied. The US position is simple: they cannot agree anything which they know Congress will not approve. He referred to the 2009 terms which were then acceptable to the US for a binding agreement and suggested that there was no room for the US delegation to manoeuvre beyond them. He used the words ‘divergent views’ a number of times and it is clear that, post the Copenhagen failure, a host of alternative positions and views have emerged which have reignited old debates. Getting UN nations to agree (‘unless everything is agreed, nothing is agreed’) is clearly like herding cats. I wish our Pershing rocket every success in the face of homeland resistance forces.

I am not sure how much disclosure is appropriate to a private briefing, but his overview – ‘everything is in flux, but some issues are in more flux than others’ – fits with everyone else’s at this stage in a COP. As he put it, ‘A lot is happening but nothing is decided.’ The bottom line seems to be that we will see a number of serious outcomes including a Green Climate Fund (probably as an institution rather than capitalised), but with many other developments mired in ‘divergent views’. At this stage, no one is willing to commit to what tomorrow will bring.

Earlier in the day, I saw the disillusionment of North American (US and Canadian) youth at first hand. Both governments seem to be falling short of Generation Y’s expectations. Watch out for more insight and pictures in tomorrow’s blog.

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