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
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
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: