Ex-UN climate chief to AP: talks are rudderless

Dec 04, 2011 By ARTHUR MAX , Associated Press

(AP) -- Yvo de Boer said he left his job as the U.N.'s top climate official in frustration 18 months ago, believing the process of negotiating a meaningful climate agreement was failing. His opinion hasn't changed.

"I still have the same view of the process that led me to leave the process," he told The Sunday. "I'm still deeply concerned about where it's going, or rather where it's not going, about the lack of progress."

For three years until 2010, the Dutch civil servant was the leading voice on on the world stage. He appeared constantly in public to advocate green policies, traveled endlessly for private meetings with top leaders and labored with negotiators seeking ways to finesse snags in drafting agreements.

In the end he felt he "wasn't really able to contribute as I should be to the process," he said.

Today he can take a long view on his years as a Dutch negotiator in the 1990s and later as a senior U.N. official with access to the highest levels of government, business and civil society. He is able to voice criticisms he was reluctant to air when he was actively shepherding climate diplomacy.

Negotiators live "in a separate universe," and the ongoing talks are "like a log that's drifted away," he said. Then, drawing another metaphor from his rich reservoir, he called the annual 194-nation conferences "a bit of a mouse wheel."

De Boer spoke to the AP on the sidelines of the latest round of talks in this South African port city, which he is attending as a consultant for the international accounting firm KPMG.

Elsewhere in Durban Sunday, the South African host of the talks called for divine help at a climate change church service organized by the South African Council of Churches.

"We needed to pray for (an) acceptable, balanced outcome, that has a sense of urgency," said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who as South Africa's foreign minister is president of the Durban round of negotiations. Priests laid their hands on her head in blessing during the service.

De Boer said world leaders have failed to become deeply engaged in efforts to reach an international accord to control greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. In recent years, their inattention has been compounded by their preoccupation with the economic and Eurozone crises.

Negotiators have been at the job so long - since the 1992 climate convention - that they have lost touch with the real world, he said. But it wasn't their fault.

"I completely understand that it is very difficult for a negotiator to move if you haven't been given a political sense of direction and the political space to move," he said, chatting on a hilltop terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Rather than act in their own national interests, many leaders look to see what others are willing - or unwilling - to concede.

"You've got a bunch of international leaders sitting 85 stories up on the edge of a building saying to each other, you jump first and I'll follow. And there is understandably a reluctance to be the first one to jump," he said.

The 2009 Copenhagen summit was a breaking point. Expectations soared that the conference would produce an accord setting firm rules for bringing down global carbon emissions. When delegates fell short, hopes remained high that President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, most of Europe's heads of government and more than 100 other top leaders would save the day at the last minute.

De Boer said he spent the last 24 hours of the summit in "a very small and very smelly room" with about 20 prime ministers and presidents, but the time was not ripe for the hoped-for international treaty.

Obama still hoped to push domestic legislation through the Senate, and any prior commitment to a U.N. treaty would have killed his chances. The bill died anyway. China and India, too, were not ready in Copenhagen to accept internationally binding limits on their emissions.

Many Americans, he said, have still not bought into the "green story," he said. In the meantime, the U.S. is losing a competitive edge against China, which is investing heavily to shift the course of its economy - from which it will benefit regardless of the global warming issue, he said.

Despite their failures, De Boer said he thought most leaders sincerely want a deal on .

"I do not see the negotiating process being able to rise to that challenge, being capable of delivering on that," he said. "I believe the sincerity on the part of world leaders is there, but it's almost as though they do not have control of the process that's suppose to take them there."

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Nanobanano
not rated yet Dec 04, 2011
History shows that, by and large, humans absolutely refuse to change their ways unless it has a personal, short-term benefit to themselves, or at least the perception of such.

The social and economic changes required to modernize really requires government intervention, and in the U.S. half our citizens who support republicanism pretty much consider ANY government intervention to be evil by definition.

We have to change our entire infrastructure, in some cases from the bottom up, and nobody wants to pay the piper, well, at least not the early retirement crowd in the baby boomers and sandwich generations.

For them, it's "NIMBY" and "to hell with the environment, I'll be dead before things get really bad anyway," attitude is prevalent.

Oh yeah, Republicans and conservative Christians mostly hypocritically don't give a damn about the environment at all, as long as someone else, i.e. future generations, suffers and not them...
Nanobanano
not rated yet Dec 04, 2011
They will have reaped all of the short-term benefits of the fossil fuel era, but few of the drawbacks.

Unless someone finds like the mother of all oil fields under the arctic or antarctic, oil will likely run out completely in 30 years anyway. Of course, supply and demand issues and wars will make the fuel cost of automobiles totally prohibitive for at least the lower 50% of people in the U.S. starting probably in the next 10 to 15 years, I should think, UNLESS one freaking huge unknown oil field is discovered somewhere...

But then what? Keep burning fossil fuels to everyone's heart's content until the food web collapses?
Callippo
3 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2011
History shows that, by and large, humans absolutely refuse to change their ways unless it has a personal, short-term benefit to themselves, or at least the perception of such.
It leads to interesting feedback at the case of cold fusion, because majority of researchers are engaged in energetic research, less or more directly (various "green technologies", solar cells and battery research). Although it could help whole civilization, just these guys would face the social insecurity and lost of social status. So they decided as a single man to ignore the cold fusion research as long as possible.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2011
ANY government intervention to be evil by definition.

Only when govt intervention stops protecting everyone's private property and begins engaging in legal plunder to benefit the state.
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Dec 04, 2011
ANY government intervention to be evil by definition
Some people apparently didn't understand, the economical feedback operates with actual prices, so it cannot control the long term strategies. Free market economy has no autonomous strategy by it's very definition, which leads to it's principal instability. This instability is masked with central banks and various government interventions by now, so that the proponents of free market can get the illusion, the free market would be working well even without these interventions, but it's huge illusion. The case of cold fusion demonstrated clearly, just the negative feedback at the communal level can hinder the research at the global level and its applications in this area.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2011
Nano, you do know that JD Rockefeller saved the sperm whale, and destroyed the US whale industry, by creating a cheaper substitute for whale oil for lighting from more efficient crude oil refining? (But since saving the whales was not his noble intent, profit was, JD was baaad.)
While JD made a fortune selling cheap, quality kerosene, he soon lost that market to the electric lamp.
The efficient refining process created a by-product, gasoline, which soon found its way into the horseless carriage reliving congestion and horse manure pollution, and dead horses, in many cities.
All this happened without govt direction.
In fact, 'progressives' demanded govt step in and STOP all this creative destructive, REAL progress and wealth creation. That happened about 100 years ago and we are still trying to make real progress with govts hamstringing the process at every step with regulations, subsidies and taxes.
FrankHerbert
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 04, 2011
We all know how big your hard-on is for the Standard Oil monopoly. Please put it away.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2011
What monopoly?
By the time the govt got around to punishing Standard Oil, competitors were many.
But that is the purpose of anti-trust laws, punish success and reward those who bribe govt officials to invoke anti-trust on there behalf.
FrankHerbert
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 04, 2011
By the time the govt got around to punishing Standard Oil, competitors were many.


LOL, like you would treat laws that apply to individuals in such a fashion.

"Well that guy only planned on murdering one person. He says he won't do it again and there are other people out there actively planning murders right now!"

We all know how big your hard-on is for the Standard Oil monopoly. Please put it away.