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Our Insights 10 Dec 2011

Winding up – or winding down?

By Geoff Lye

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

As the high-level ministerial segment reaches its final day, there are many tired faces around the centre, including some needing a lunch time nap as in the picture below.

A surprising exception is Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and responsible for getting a good set of outcomes in the next 24 hours. I have attended two progress briefings she has given. The first – and by far the more interesting – was a meeting with the youth groups. As a few hundred Gen Yers filed in, I realised that I was the only Boomer in the audience, but no one seemed to care. The mood in the room was so much more positive than the later briefing which was open to ‘the constituencies’ essentially all of the NGOs, from business to religious groups. A repeated theme from Christiana was that their generation ‘was inheriting this mess’ and had to be even more vocal and active in pressuring politicians and others into urgent action. She cited the parallel of the Arab Spring where technology connected and empowered a whole generation and mobilised them into movements. This is what she called for in relation to climate change. There is a moral obligation on global youth, she said, to use all the tools at their disposal ‘to educate and to change behaviours.’ She expressed surprise that this next generation had not already put more pressure and created more ‘movements’ for change. ‘Ask yourselves,’ she challenged, ‘How much political will do you have?’ Overall a very calm, warm and humorous engagement: impressive.

A little earlier, I went to a press briefing by SustainUS – a US youth group which is thoroughly disillusioned with the US government’s positions on climate both at home and here in Durban. One of their number made a public intervention just ahead of Todd Stern’s (head of the US delegation) plenary speech – and was promptly ‘de-badged’. They played a powerful video at the briefing which you can see here. The day before, a Canadian youth group had similarly protested against their government’s high-carbon commitment to oil sands (interestingly, we have just released a paper called The Inescapability of Traceability which points up potential risks to oil sand assets as the world wakes up to the scale of their environmental impacts).

In the ‘adult’ briefing, Christiana Figueres seemed optimistic for positive outcomes, in spite of the overall process being ‘painfully slow’ (remember the quote from my earlier blog of a business observer who described it as ‘like watching paint drying’). There are also signs from what she said of a definite shift in the balance between securing the multilateral agreement and the need for on-going unilateral action: she pointed to individual country and private sector commitments as both welcome and very helpful in spurring the UN process. On Tuesday and in the spirit of ‘we have solutions,’ she launched the ‘Momentum for Change’ initiative to demonstrate the positive opportunities for addressing mitigation and adaptation needs. She wanted it, she said, to be ‘a breath of fresh air blowing through these halls.’

Her own style, it has to be said, is also a real breath of fresh air. At the end of the youth briefing, she accepted an ‘I Love KP’ T-shirt (see below; KP = Kyoto Protocol) and told them that this would be a present to her husband that evening to celebrate their wedding anniversary. His initials are KR and she jokingly asked permission to convert the P to an R.

On more serious matters, she reported some positive developments: that the question of a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol was now a matter of how – and not whether – it would be implemented (if I understand that correctly, this is a huge step forward); and that the Green Climate Fund was very likely to be adopted (even though much of the debate here has been procedural on issues like the role of national designated authorities and the location for the secretariat). Germany has pledged Euros 40 million to cover initial operating costs. Nothing had, at that stage, been committed to the fund itself. By the time you read this, we will hopefully see these and more positive agreements.

Signs of the times?

My navigation skills are not very good, but on the final day I was just finding my way around this huge site – definitely not helped by the cryptic signs. I studied the one below to get to the Kosi Palm Room. The downward arrow means ‘turn round 180 degrees, go back 25 metres, up the escalator and forward 50 metres. Is it me?

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