Sunday, December 13, 2009

Suspense halfway

Today was the first official break in the meetings since they officially began last Monday. Time enough for everyone to take a deep breath before the final climb to the summit. So where do things stand at the halfway point? It is difficult to say precisely.

Many of the plenary sessions and smaller meetings that are held are often the end result of a great deal of negotiations occurring in small groups. The meetings are used to determine the sticking points that need to be addressed or deliberated and formalize areas where parties agree. It's not so much that there are sneaky back room deals being struck, because that would cause party nations in the official meetings to blow up in indignation. There is certainly no shortage of rumors flowing in all directions throughout the hallways of the Bella Center. I have the impression that the officials in charge of the meetings, such as the President of the conference, Connie Hedegaard from Denmark, are running to and fro communicating with parties on what they are willing to do, what they are willing to cede, and what they can ultimately agree to.

In fact, it is amazing to me that some of the biggest players in the story unfolding before us are countries most Americans have never heard of. Size and strategic importance have no role in determining who voices significant positions here in Copenhagen. I have grown accustomed to hearing the voice of the delegate from Sudan speak first, often, and authoritatively. As the voice of G-77 Sudan wields tremendous power to speak for 130 of the worlds less developed countries.

The bow tie wearing delegate from Tuvalu (a country which has a whopping 26 square miles of land) has become something of a cause celebre here among the NGO community as the face of nations that may literally disappear if changing conditions lead to a significant sea level rise. The delegate from Lesotho is the designated spokesperson for the Least Developed Countries while Grenada speaks for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Some smaller issues have been resolved, some postponed and kicked down the road to future meetings because no resolution between parties is possible (more on these later). The U.S. itself is rarely heard from.

At this point I am unclear of exactly what the U.S. is doing. They have certainly not conveyed the impression that they are interested in taking a leadership role in these talks. They mostly make their views known indirectly through the Australian representative for the "Umbrella group", an informal group of developed countries not part of the European Union. Even European countries have been grumbling on the side about the fact that the U.S. could make further commitments that would fall within the framework of pending legislation in the House and Senate. The Chief negotiators for the U.S. have, if anything, come across as fairly combative.

So where do things stand? Positions have been laid out, divisions between nations or groups of nations have been highlighted, and the stakes of failure have been repeatedly referred to. Perhaps the most often used phrase this past week has been "the world is watching". There are five days remaining for the negotiators furiously working behind closed doors to generate a deal that will be politically acceptable to all and aggressive and far-reaching enough to stem the tide that threatens to sweep us all into the deluge that awaits. The world is watching, and waiting.

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