Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

What better way to open the Copenhagen climate talks — the meeting of the UNFCCC that is supposedly going to decide the fate of the entire world — than with broad civil society outrage at the egregious lack of democracy in the process.

Here’s the inside scoop: the Danish presidency is desperate for a positive spin on any outcome of the climate negotiations here. That means forcing an outcome by bringing together the rich and powerful nations to broker a deal in private and then to announce it to the rest of the world. There is widespread concern of U.S.-friendly text being “parachuted” into the negotiating documents, at the expense of G77 countries (everyone else).

We all know that international agreements involve quite a lot of back-room deals and often intimidation. We just usually don’t expect it to come from the facilitators. Obviously this is both antithetical to the U.N. process but also to the duties of the Danish Government in playing a neutral convening role at the Conference of Parties. It’s not just an attack on democracy, but it amounts to an attack on the rest of the world on behalf of a few powerful interests. It’s the sort of “green room” behavior one would expect from the World Trade Organization, not the United Nations, which has a consensus process designed to make global decisions.

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The logic is this — the U.S. needs to be on board to get any deal, so therefore let’s force a watering-down of the process to get the U.S. to sign. Déjà vu? It’s errily like we’re replaying the Kyoto meeting in 1997. Remember how the world watered down the treaty (giving birth to the concept of offsets and the Clean Development Mechanism) so that the U.S. would sign? …and the U.S. never even signed anyway.

Will COP15 be a race to the bottom, hijacked to pander to the United States? Today Raman Mehta from Action Aid India said, “The global community trusted the Danish government to host a fair and transparent process but they have betrayed that trust. Most importantly, they are betraying those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and whose voices are not being heard. This unfair behavior strikes a blow to all efforts to achieve justice and equity in the climate change negotiations process.”

Civil Society has brought foreward a number of specific concerns:

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– Undemocratic practices that have been adopted by the Danish Prime Minister who has been convening small and exclusive groups of countries before the Copenhagen meeting, excluding the vast majority of countries (everyone but the G20) whose futures are at stake in the negotiations.

– The Danish Prime Minister’s decision to produce draft “Copenhagen Accords” before the meeting has even started. These have been circulated to a select few governments, excluding others. They have been produced in spite of on-going negotiations under the UNFCCC and prejudiced the outcome of good-faith negotiations among all Parties.

– Systematic disregard for the demands of developing countries in order to privilege the position of Denmark and other developed countries on key issues.

– Danish Prime Minister’s consistent disregard for the concerns of developing countries by downgrading expectations for Copenhagen to a “political agreement” and by falsely stating that the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

What does this mean?:

The Danish Government’s self serving actions reinforce efforts led by the U.S. and Canada to subvert the Kyoto Protocol to move towards a treaty under the only other negotiating track of the LCA. This moves us closer to the U.S. “pledge and review” process proposal — which would mean that instead of setting a total international science-based target, each country would choose a target based on domestic consultation with industry, leaving the world with whatever the aggregate total is. This will in no way bring us close to the targets that science demands, but it is easier to justify the U.S.’s weak commitments.

While efforts to seal a global deal on climate change are laudable, we can’t get caught in the mindset of settling for a dirty deal. When we sacrifice democracy in the interests of getting something we can call “politically successful,” we get the lowest common denominator — and it has nothing to do with actually stopping climate change.

As Meena Raman from the Third World Network put it, “The Danish government’s biased actions threaten the trust that is the very foundation of a fair and effective deal in Copenhagen and, left unchecked, these actions will cause the collapse of the Copenhagen process.”

The world is watching.

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