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News from the COP: Monckton parachutes in

  • 07 Dec 2011, 17:45
  • Ed King

This morning Durban stopped as a man in a pinstripe suit leapt from a plane and parachuted to the beach, leaving trails of red vapour in the sky.

A gust of wind one way could have sent him into the shark-infested Indian Ocean. A small puff the other would have propelled him into the security wire that rings the buildings here.

But all was still.

On landing - which appeared textbook - Lord Monckton's message was clear: Listen to me! As I may not be listening to you.

Monckton seems to be attending in order to harangue various members of the scientific community. No sooner had I finished interviewing Michel Jarraud, the head of the WMO, than the good Viscount pounced on him. Judging by the website of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow - which organised the parachute drop - Monckton's team have been trawling the conference, sparking debates with delegates and filming the results.

It's all just grist to the Durban mill. Having covered two Olympics, FA Cup finals, the Six Nations and a variety of other top sporting events, I felt pretty well prepared for a UN summit. But I can honestly say I've experienced nothing quite like this before.

The size beggars belief. How anything is decided is a mystery. The main plenary hall is a vast forbidding atrium, with four seats per country (two if you are the Vatican or Palestine). Leading off from the main hallway are a series of smaller venues - where the real details are thrashed out behind closed doors.

The levels of intrigue are compelling - even more so when you trawl the delegation offices in the sweltering car park on the lower ground-floor. No aircon has been installed, to keep emissions low.  As a result they all appear empty - save for a secretary here or there. The Chinese office isn't even marked - just a blank white door. The girl inside initially denied even being from China.

In my role as interviewer at the RTCC TV studio I have interviewed, amongst others, three Masai Warriors, two members of the San tribe, an astronaut, 25 youth activists, Lord Prescott, Greg Barker MP (who arrived with three glamorous aides), and His Holiness Shri Shri 1008 (he has 1008 names) Soham Baba, who arrived on set carrying a mysterious silver pot. Not sure what was in it, but his followers do look very happy.

This week, it's all shifted up a gear. While the first week was a chance for delegates to develop coalitions and negotiating strategies, week two is when people get down to business.

What had been a half deserted press centre is now packed to the gunnels with irritated journalists fighting for seats and cursing the venue's WiFi. Activists, scientists, journalists and diplomats pack the halls.

For the first week, since no-one had any idea where everyone else stood (apart from the US and Canada), the South African papers - which have fallen in love with COP17 - were packed full of speculation, unattributed quotes and the odd colour story about bicycles made out of hemp.

With the second week in full swing, the pressure on COP17 President Mashabane to conjure up an agreement is intense. It is as if the hopes of Africa rest on her, and she has been looking tense in the plenary sessions.

The same cannot be said for the USA's droll deputy negotiator John Pershing, whose first week press conferences were packed. Quite why is a mystery, as he ran out the same line every day - variations on "we're not going to do anything if others don't". Campaigners I spoke with say he would dearly love a deal, but has no room to manoeuvre in Durban.

The youth groups, filled with the conviction that anything is possible, appear to be the only ones still positive about this week's talks. Others appear less convinced - the French ambassador to climate change told me talks were 'difficult', while Chris Huhne was less diplomatic when quizzed this afternoon.

On the first Sunday the UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres let rip after an unusually quiet first press conference, saying "I hope the media has a bit more to say for itself in the next two weeks". The early hours of Friday morning will reveal all, but so far no-one seems too bothered. The urgency that Dr Rajendra Pachauri called for last week simply isn't here.

When we interviewed Christiana Figueres there was no sign of tiredness or frustration - just palpable determination to get a deal. But are the delegates she is trying to corral at COP17 simply too relaxed about the future and resigned to a fudge?

From the sidelines it certainly seems that way.

Ed King is editor of Responding to Climate Change www.rtcc.org Twitter: rtcc_edking

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