Climate Week NYC Kicks Off with Crossed Arms, Wagging Fingers and Symbolic Technical Difficulties

Climate Week NY°C began officially with an opening ceremony in the New York Public Library in Bryant Park. Attended by distinguished diplomats such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, US climate negotiator Todd Stern, India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh, and others (plus Hugh Jackman...), in many ways the event itself seemed a representation of the state of climate negotiations:

Climate Change Communication Breakdown

It began with the short promo film, intended to set the mood, starting and then stopping due to unknown technical difficulties -- at least to me seeming somehow a a fitting (if coincidental) representation of the state of climate change negotiations, where the gap between scientific recommendation and political will seems vast.

The dignitaries assembled, stood for a photo call and then assumed their positions, quickly falling into mannerisms that mostly mirrored their position statements.

Climate Change Deal Moral Imperative: Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon sat center, seemingly unfazed and driving home the point that there is both a political and moral imperative to sign a global climate change agreement this December in Copenhagen.

To his right (viewing the podium), Tony Blair lounged back with one leg crossed over the other, arm leaning on Ban's chair, smiling.

Climate Change Negotiations More Difficult Than N. Ireland: Tony Blair

When he took the podium he said that the Kyoto Protocol was really a treaty to make the point that climate change needs to be taken seriously, but that whatever deal is arrived at in December is really not just the successor to Kyoto, but has to be the solution to climate change.

He added that these negotiations are actually tougher than any he has taken part in, Northern Ireland and the Middle East included. Using something which increasingly seems to be a hackneyed cliché, Blair said we must not make the perfect the enemy of the good here and that the emphasis should not be on the numbers but on the mapping out of the path.

We Must Be Pragmatic & Flexible: Todd Stern

Further to the right sat US negotiator Todd Stern, who most of the time sat with arms crossed. When it came time for Stern to speak he emphasized that overall he was impressed by the actions taken so far by China and India, but that the negotiation process more broadly was slower than anyone would like. He added that they had to be done in pragmatic and flexible way, respecting every nation's "legitimate constraints."

India Preparing Quantitative Domestic Targets: Jairam Ramesh

This whole time Jairam Ramesh sat either with his head resting on one hand or checking his Blackberry, seemingly distracted or somewhat annoyed. At one point he wagged his finger in defiance when the UN Foundation's president Tim Wirth tried to lump India and China in the same category as the developed nations in terms of carbon emissions.

Ramesh came to life though when he began describing India's future efforts:

At all points of time our per capita emissions will always be below the per capita emissions of the developed world. [...] We do need, however, to have a per capita-plus approach.

India is now looking actively at a per capita-plus approach. We have identified a large series of explicit mitigation, not mitigation actions, but mitigation outcomes. Giving specific quantitative targets for the year 2020. To be really creditable we have to say 'what are we going to do in 2020.'

We are in the process of drafting domestic legislation; we are going to get parliament's approval; we will have a domestic law which will embody in it specific mitigation targets for power, for agriculture, transport, buildings, energy intensity of industry.

The key question is, of does this domestic, implicit reduction targets convert into international obligations? On this we are prepared to engage in a meaningful discussion in the international community.


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