Saudi placard vandalized, climate talks slowed further

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS,

Bonn : The official placard of the Saudi Arabian delegation was vandalised at the venue of the global talks here in preparation for the next climate summit. As a result, the talks were held up for hours on the last day Friday.

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The May 31-June 11 talks were anyway mired in controversy when it was found Friday morning that someone had removed the Saudi Arabian placard from the hall where the plenary sessions were taking place, had broken the placard and placed the broken bits inside a commode, and had then e-mailed a photograph of the vandalised placard to the Saudi government, according to a security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

There were unconfirmed reports that a Saudi Arabian national flag had also been placed with the broken placard.

Unsurprisingly, the incident overtook everything else when what was supposed to be the concluding session started late Friday morning. Delegates from one country after another condemned the vandalism.

Saudi Arabia had been the target of the ire of small island countries and green NGOs earlier this week when its delegation blocked a study that would have shown what various countries would have to do to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But on Friday, all NGOs and government delegates were unanimous in their condemnation of the vandalism.

It took two hours before the conference could get back to its fractious work of trying to get a deal to combat climate change, a phenomenon that is already reducing farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe and raising the sea level.

Developing countries, including India, are unhappy with the draft new deal that was presented late Thursday night. A senior member of the Indian government delegation said the draft hinted at forcing emerging economies to cap their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020, a position unacceptable to India.

“But in the interest of moving the talks forward, we are not rejecting the draft outright,” the delegate said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We will give our comments and objections and start negotiating when we meet here again in August.”

No such accommodation was shown by Japan and Russia on the final day, when they rejected another draft prepared by the group working on the future of the Kyoto Protocol – so far the only legal treaty that obliges rich countries to reduce their GHG emissions. The plenary session was adjourned more than once.

While developing countries did not reject the draft new deal, they made their unhappiness clear. Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon Romero Oreza said: “This imbalanced text complicates negotiations instead of facilitating them. It has not even considered any of the proposals made by G77 (the group of 77, which actually has over 130 countries) and China. If accepted, this text will also be the beginning of the end of the Kyoto Protocol.”

Asked about the way to advance the stalled climate talks, Oreza told IANS: “We have to start with a process that is driven by countries in open meetings, not something that happens in the backrooms.”

These talks were supposed to be the start of negotiations towards a new treaty, but, Oreza pointed out: “During these two weeks, we haven’t negotiated, we have only made statements. The base text for negotiations must reflect the positions of all countries, and then we can start to move towards consensus.”

At the plenary session, the same words were echoed by Abdullah M. Alsaidi, the representative of Yemen, on behalf of the G77. Yemen is the current G77 chair.

However, the fact that developing countries had not rejected the text was seen as a positive sign by outgoing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, who said the concerns of developing countries would be taken into account before the next round of negotiations.

De Boer, who is leaving his post at the end of the month, said these talks had advanced the fight against climate change in many ways – with the US and the G77 bridging their differences on how to set up a fund for poor countries to deal with global warming effects. There were advances in forestry too, he said, and on how agriculture could help fight climate change.

As the hours dragged by, delegates from South Africa changed into their country’s football jerseys and urged their colleagues to wind up quickly so that everyone could watch the start of the World Cup. But with more and more delegates waiting to speak, that appeared unlikely.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])