December 19, 2009
The last hours of Friday in the Bella Center were both fascinating and depressing.
In a former professional life, I knew someone that had been involved in WTO negotiations. He used to describe them to me as multi-player chess with 200 participants and hundreds of issues and that as such deals were always impossible because there were so many competing positions that there was always someone offended and so blocking progress.
Last night at the Copenhagen Climate Conference was rather similar. The issues were many (targets, dates, financing, transparency, legality and ego amongst them) and the players around 190.
In reality, if it had taken 2 years to not get a deal, fixing something together yesterday afternoon and evening was quite a tall order.
Your author found himself in quite a heated debate with a young lady in the main hall at around 23.00. She was explaining the theoretical process of agreeing a deal and that there was a deal because CNN, the BBC and others had reported so. The debate was heated because I couldn’t imagine a deal was possible so quickly (that and I had just spoken to an EU insider that told me that they did not like the current form of the text, but so – apparently – had she).
In the airport this morning I bumped into her again – she was also Brussels bound. She recalled our conversation and then informed me that her boss was still at the Bella Center, there was no deal, and that President Obama had announced a deal with only 5 nations in agreement.
At perhaps 20.30 or so, whilst waiting outside an annonymous office with a number of other members of the press, President Obama appeared from nowhere and strode past into a meeting. Around 40 minutes later, he left via a side exit to avoid the jostling throng of photographers. A few minutes later, someone stood next to me informed that a colleague had spotted him elsewhere in the building. He was not coming past us for certain. It was believed that the meeting room now ‘only‘ contained Sarkozy and Brown.
Is 40 minutes enough time to put together a deal with only 3 nations? It seems not…
Fast forward around 2 hours and he gave a press conference to announce a deal. This press conference was not announced to the Bella Center. Instead, everyone was trying to gain access to an EU press conference that ultimately was postponed.
Without announcing it to the Center, and thus meaning that everyone outside of the room could not see it live, he gave what appeared to be a press conference only to pre-invited (American) journalists. Is that how you would announce a deal for the safe future of humanity if you were the most powerful man in the world?
With hindsight, it appears that the rumours surrounding other leaders were more than likely to be true.
So to conclude, what was this all about?
Right or wrong, my take is that what little President Obama appeared to have done could have been done without his presence. The last few days have seen Al Gore, John Kerry and Hilary Rodham Clinton in the Bella Center, could they not have announced America’s postion? Well, actually Mrs Clinton did. At the lecturn, addressing the plenary, President Obama did not seem to advance their position, he was simply saying it again himself.
Instead, I fear that this was about grandstanding, an incredible first-mover press opportunity and a desire to do just enough to remain relevant in future rounds of negotiation.
To quote the late Walter Karp, “As soon as war broke out in Europe, Woodrow Wilson was fired by a truly grandiose ambition: to preside over the ultimate peace settlement and establish through a league of nations the foundation of ‘permanent peace’.” Wilson feared that if America was not involved in the conflict, he would have no influence in the following peace conference, at best he would be allowed to “call through a crack in the door”.
I fear that we have simply witnessed a more modern version of the same phenomena.Author : Stuart Langridge