“Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight,” said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, “with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport.” Increasingly, the take on COP15 is that it failed in almost every department, aside from the rhetoric about keeping the rise in average temperatures below 2 degrees C.
God knows how the delegates put up with it, from (1) the leak of the “Danish text” of a set of proposals prepared in advance of COP15 by a group of rich countries through (2) to Sudan lecturing the world on human rights and (3) to the number of observer passes being cut from 15,000 to just 90. people made the best of it: One entrepreneurial colleague, for example, ended up sleeping behind a temporary wall in the conference centre, to avoid the cull of observers – and then benefitted from an amnesty, being allowed to stay in.
On the face of it, however, this has been one of the most shambolic exercises in UN-led global governance for quite some time. Still, even though I have always avoided such events, finding the endless horse-trading profoundly wildly inappropriate to the nature and scale of the challenges we face, COP15 did at least illuminate the fault-lines in emergent twenty-first century politics – very much like an X-ray shows the invisible weaknesses in metals and ceramics.
I’m not sure the image will play well outside the UK, but the Sunday Times today has Obama’s face dropped into a photograph of Neville Chamberain returning from his meeting with “Mr. Hitler”, brandishing his meaningless piece of paper. Obama, who I admire enormously, now seems to have been wrong-footed twice in Copenhagen – and it is tempting to agree that he shouldn’t have turned up for COP15, given his profound distraction from the climate agenda because of US health care politics. America is divided on climate, as on so many issues, and the sense of a country adrift grows apace.
In many ways, it is unfair to heap the blame onto China, as Obama and others have tried to do – but the giant country clearly has much to learn about how to operate diplomatically on the world scene. Meanwhile, there is plenty of blame to go around, with fractious internal politics during the conference within Denmark, the host country, within the EU, and pretty much in most other directions you care to point out. What we saw was what I am tempted to call ‘Liferaft Politics’, with endless squabbles for the tiller, water and food – and desperate struggles to determine who’s in and who’s out.
Once again, I’m glad not to have been involved. But this is a desperately sad – and (not to put too fine a point on it) potentially civilisation-threatening – outcome. Many eyes will now switch to the ‘Road to Mexico’, and COP16, but I am tempted to agree with Julian (Lord) Hunt, a former Director-General of the UK Meteorological Office. Writing in today’s Observer, he warns that we may be heading towards a future in which no comprehensive successor to the Kyoto regime is possible. “It is therefore crucial,” he says, “that the centre of gravity of decision-making on how we respond to climate change moves towards the sub-national level. The need for such a shift from ‘top down’ to ‘bottom up’ is becoming clearer by the day.”
Business organisations are already lamenting the failure to agree on a clear, predictable framework to regulate and drive down greenhouse emission – an analysis which is understandable, as far as it goes. But, at the same time, the spotlight is likely to shift from the muscle-bound, strangulated, sclerotic world of mainstream public and private sector leadership to new generations of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors who plunge in and create the future in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
That’s where we are focusing our efforts at Volans – and i head towards 2010 not so much angry with the short-sightedness and self-interest of today’s political incumbents (I may be politically naive and a little romantic, but I’m not completely stupid) as determined to do our damnedest to answer the question, “If not COP, what?”