COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — Monday marked the start of the second week of climate negotiations at COP15, and true to form, the day saw a mix of drama and overreaction. For me, the drama started about 12:45 p.m., shortly before the daily progress briefing on climate change talks in the main pressroom.
As members of the press corps took their seats, my Twitter feed exploded: “G77 walk out of negotiation,” “African delegation pulls plug on climate talks” “#COP15 in chaos”
I looked around. The room was calm.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. framework convention on climate change, was pouring some water and taking his seat. Nothing in the room implied confusion, much less chaos.
Even so, I got that sick feeling only reporters (and cartoon commentators) really know. It’s the feeling that comes when you’re convinced you’re in the wrong place and missing the story.
My first instinct was to run into the hall and find the “chaos,” but luckily my time at this conference has taught me a few things, including this reality: The African delegation and, to a lesser extent, the G77 are negotiating blocs that represent the countries with the most to lose if the talks fail, and the likelihood that they’ll sabotage the conference is small.
A few minutes later, the tweets grew more suspicious: “Yvo de Boer downplays walkouts” Really? I was listening to Mr. de Boer, and he was talking about logistics.
I should have listened to my own advice from a few days ago.
It turns out, like most things here, that the story was largely truthful, but the interpretation was far too severe. The truth: Countries associated with the African delegation and supported by the G77 staged a walkout, temporarily suspending the conference, but the calamity of this action, at least in tweet form, was overblown.
The talk in the cafeterias toward the end of the day was more balanced. The walkout was designed to slow the debate and make a statement about the progress of certain aspects of the negotiations.
In short, it was an attempt to gain leverage, not end the conference … and with more than 130 heads of state about to arrive, I would be very surprised if any group kept things from moving forward.
If anybody’s going to derail this conference, it will be the men and women at the very top.