Tuesday, December 7, 2010

High Level Segment

This afternoon was the opening of the high-level segment of the UNFCCC negotiations. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these two week conferences are normally broken up into two segments. The first is devoted to intense discussions among diplomats and negotiators who try and identify the main barricades to agreements and work out much of the technical details and language needed before countries can sit down and make agreements. The second week is referred to as the High-level segment because that is when heads-of-state or high-level ministers arrive to hammer out details and provide additional input on what countries can and cannot promise.

To a certain extent, the opening ceremony of the high-level segment is more media event than anything else. It opened with the President of Mexico Felipe Calderon welcoming everyone and then introducing a Mexican "cultural event" which turned out to be an interpretive dance put on by a group of Maya about the importance of respecting mother Earth. This was followed by a short video showing various scenes and people of Mexico. There was little meat to the opening ceremony until some of the speakers took the stage.  

The first to speak was Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.  One of her first comments confirmed what we had thought all along, that as much as the environment, "the effectiveness and credibility of the multilateral negotiation process is at stake" here in Cancun.  She clearly intended to put moral pressure on the gathered negotiators by asking "has the world woken up and can the world respond to [climate change]? The answer is in your hands here and now."  Though her speech was really pretty rousing and played well to the ministers present, she ended with what can only be really understood as a bad UN joke: "Cancun must deliver, and believe me, the eyes of the world are monitoring your work, they will be reporting and they will certainly verify." 

United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon spoke next and tried his best to both inspire the negotiators and mortar in some of the cracks that have shown in the positions between countries over the past week.  In a nod to both the small countries as well as the large and powerful states he indicated that "every country must be a part of the solution, every country has a role to play" and that "we must be a united nations."  For such a low-key personality, the room was perfectly still when he was speaking and it was clear that he drew people's respect.  Challenging the progress made thus far he stated that "our efforts so far have been insufficient, we are still not rising to the challenge...the longer we delay, the more we will have to pay: economically, environmentally and with live." Over and over, he indicated that compromise and flexibility needs to be at the forefront of everyone's mind when it comes to the end of the negotiation process.  He repeated an oft used phrase here in Cancun, "we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and also ended with a reminder of what is at stake.  "Nature will not wait while we negotiate...the time for waiting while keeping one eye on everyone else is over. The world, particularly the poor and vulnerable are waiting for an agreement and a way forward."

The cards have been dealt.  Now is the time to see who folds and who is willing to ante up.  

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