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So, are we making progress?

June 9, 2009

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I’ve been asking people at the UN conference how they think the negotiations are going. Even though we’re here, it can be hard to tell. The answers we receive give me the same certainty that you might get from driving on the highway (or Autobahn) with a shorted-out dashboard. Warning lights flicker on an off. The speedometer flicks up to 150km/hr and back down to 0. One second, it looks like all systems are go. The next, you better get out of the car quick because half of the engine is about to drop out and the breaks are shot.
For example, in a press briefing hosted by the Climate Action Network, which represents 450 environmental and development NGOs from around the world, Srinivas Krishnaswamy gave a dismal overview of the negotiations, “We do hope they go to real negotiations from the blah, blah, blah position.” He reported that most of the proceedings over the past 8 days have involved statements and re-statements of national positions, but not much else.
In contrast, as the meeting of the Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action was drawing to a close a full 40 minutes early [very unusual], the Chair commented that he was encouraged by the pace and efficiency of the meeting and that he was quite surprised by how much work was accomplished. His tone barely conveyed the optimism of his words, but nevertheless, I took this as a sign that negotiations were moving faster than expected. Perhaps those involved in this process for many years have a different sense of fast and slow.
The broken dashboard analogy is particularly fitting because just as dashboards provide mostly negative feedback, that’s most of what we’re hearing about the negotiations. We’ve heard that it’s slow, unfair, inadequate, and inefficient. Every once in a while, we hear the “institutional defense” that the process is necessary even if it is painfully slow.
In my analysis, most answers we hear fit the political location and agenda of person we ask. Environmental NGOs and developing nation delegates tend to highlight the present and future injustices across the world. Delegates from developed countries acknowledge that the process is slow, but are quick to note that there are 192 countries involved and that the issues are more complex than others may perceive.
There’s no objective status meter for the negotiations except for the eternally lit, flat-screen that displays the Countdown to Copenhagen at the front of the room. It doesn’t tick, but it’s ominous enoug

I’ve been asking people at the UN conference how they think the negotiations are going. Even though we’re here, it can be hard to tell. The answers we receive give us the same certainty that you might get from driving on the highway (or Autobahn) with a shorted-out dashboard. Warning lights flicker on and off. The speedometer flicks up to 100 mph and back down to 0. One second, it looks like all systems are go. The next, you better get out of the car quick because half of the engine is about to drop out and the breaks are shot.

For example, in a press briefing hosted by the Climate Action Network, which represents 450 environmental and development NGOs from around the world, Srinivas Krishnaswamy gave a dismal overview of the negotiations, “We do hope they go to real negotiations from the blah, blah, blah position.” He reported that most of the proceedings over the past 8 days have involved statements and re-statements of national positions, but not much else.

In contrast, as the meeting of the Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action was drawing to a close a full 40 minutes early [very unusual], the Chair commented that he was encouraged by the pace and efficiency of the meeting and that he was quite surprised by how much work was accomplished. His tone barely conveyed the optimism of his words, but nevertheless, I took this as a sign that negotiations were moving faster than expected. Perhaps those involved in this process for many years have a different sense of fast and slow.

The broken dashboard analogy is particularly fitting because just as dashboard lights provide mostly negative feedback, that’s most of what we’re hearing about the negotiations. We’ve heard that it’s slow, unfair, inadequate, and inefficient. Every once in a while, we hear the “institutional defense” that the process is necessary even if it is painfully slow.

In my analysis, most answers we hear fit the political location and agenda of the person speaking. Environmental NGOs and developing nation delegates tend to highlight the present and future injustices across the world. Delegates from developed countries acknowledge that the process is slow, but are quick to note that there are 192 countries involved and that the issues are more complex than others may perceive.

There’s no objective status meter for the negotiations except for the eternally lit, flat-screen display of the Countdown to Copenhagen at the front of the room. It doesn’t tick, but it’s ominous enough.

-Taylor

far shot of counter with arrow

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