Posted by: eengelh | December 14, 2007

Papers that are non-papers

The press conference room is cool enough for a nap. Half a dozen reporters are camped out on the padded, scratchy seats, heads hanging to the side, trying to catch a few winks before the U.S. delegation holds its next press conference. The negotiators are secreted away behind closed doors now, and until they come out with a Bali Roadmap (probably late tonight or early tomorrow morning), there’s little to do but wait. Wait, and spread rumors, that is.

two-million_crop_small.jpgThe current rumor is that the U.S. is winning its battle to strip a target range for emissions reductions by developed countries from the Bali Roadmap, the plan for how the UN will proceed with climate negotiations when the first period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. But it’s a rumor; we don’t know what will happen. The rumors fill our time. The latest publicly available draft is here. In the twisted parlance of UN negotiations, this paper is called a non-paper. It’s a working document, not final. Everyone is trying to sneak peeks at one another’s non-papers, like schoolchildren cheating on the test.

Earlier, I sat sipping coffee and chatting with a woman from an oil-producing country when chief U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson sat down across from us. I strained to overhear his conversation with a colleague, but caught nothing more than occasional phrases. The woman I was talking to pulled documents from her bag, a couple of today’s draft versions of the roadmap that a delegate had passed on to her. More non-papers.

In one version, the range of 25-40% emission cuts for developed countries appeared, and in another, it did not. Both versions still contained language recognizing that emissions must begin to decline within 10-15 years. If the range is included, as the EU and most developing countries want, it will not bind nations to any target, but will serve as a starting point for negotiations that will go on for the next two years.

Watson ate a sandwich, then headed off. He didn’t look to me like someone who thought things were going well, or going poorly. He just looked like someone who has seen most of this before. In previous years, negotiations have often dragged late into the night, and one delegate said today that negotiations seem to proceed at a rate of about one sentence per day.

Outside, environmental groups are staging a steady stream of demonstrations in the hot sun, like the one (shown above) that presented to delegates a petition signed by more than 2 million people urging action on climate change. Inside, it’s as calm as the eye of a storm.



  1. An article in the LA Times today suggests that this meeting is out of touch with the challenges we will face to mitigate global warming. The efforts of the US (if this is more than a rumor) to strip emissions reduction targets from the Roadmap supports this view. We know that it is important to reduce our emissions but unless there is a concrete number the problem will remain abstract.

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