Lost and damaged at the UN Climate Talks

Last night we had the closing plenaries for both the SBSTA and SBI tracks of negotiations. In the early hours of this morning we finally emerged from the UN tired, dazed, confused, with SBI plenary unfinished and suspended, to begin again today.

For the last few hours we had been sat in the closing plenary of SBI as they tried to come to agreement on a section of the negotiations called loss and damage. Loss and damage is about climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. It is supposed to enhance their ability to adapt to these impacts.

However, repeatedly Saudi Arabia and Qatar have tried to hijack these negotiations and add response measures as a topic under them. Response measures refer to action taken to compensate countries who lose revenue from selling oil because we are transitioning to a clean economy. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, we shouldn’t be discussing this at the UNFCCC at all. However, because this is a consensus process we can’t move forward without it, because these countries constantly block progress unless it is there. The Saudi’s use response measures as a reason to stall and the talks all over the place, this week it feels like every second word has been response measures. They are such a contentious issue that we actually had a special forum that lasted 16 hours here in Bonn just discussing them!

Last night this reached a head. As the SBI chair tried to pass the new text relating to loss and damage the Saudi’s and Qatar took to the floor to once again block it for, among other reasons, the fact response measures weren’t in there. The chair tried to find a way forward for a while and countries quite vocally and passionately tried to get the Saudi’s and Qatar to change their mind, but they were having none of it. In the end the chair had to suspend the meeting so an informal huddle in the corner could take place where the delegates tried to find a compromise that would mean we could make a decision on the text. This was at around midnight, the chair said the suspension would last 15 min… an hour later we were still all in the bar (well what else are the young people to do here when we are given an hours impromptu break…).

As nice as the break was, the tension in the room before-hand really started to get to me. As I sat there and listened to the Saudi’s try to claim that compensating them for not selling as much oil should be as important as compensating and supporting people who have done NOTHING to add to climate change and yet are loosing their homes, their land, their health and their lives because of it, listening to that made me want to get up and hit something (or someone…), or at the very least yell a large amount of obscenities. As I stood at the bar during the break I started to despair, seeing the Saudi’s be so ridiculous and selfish in the face of such passionate pleas, seeing the process hijacked and blocked with no seeming way forward, seeing them bully and play power games with everyone else in the room, I started to lose hope in this process being able to get us where we need to go.

The whole process felt lost and damaged.

I felt a little lost and damaged.

Close to 1am we finally reconvened the plenary, we listened with baited breath as the chair read out the changes that had been agreed on.

No response measures. A sigh of relief. A small amount of damage control.

There had been some edits to a part of the text that refers to elaborating on the themes of loss and damage so we can get a clearer understanding to move forward from, but there had been no new text inserted.

But as the chair banged the gavel to declare the decision passed I wondered whether we had won or not? And as we made our weary way home and I mused on this whole thing, and the dynamic I had witnessed in the room, I wondered how we could change it to allow this process to work? It seems I wasn’t the only one, our French tracker, not a renowned feminist, also commented that we are never going to get there if we let these men do the man thing and fight to the death.

Because this is this is the point, this is the crux of it all: it’s not the process that’s broken, it’s the people in the process playing protracted power games who are ruining it. This is what we need to sort out to get this thing working, to put us back on the right track and restore the damage we have caused.

This is what we have to change.

In the meantime, as we stumbled back to our hotel at 3am, as I thought about this all and ran it round and round in my mind, as I struggled with being so involved in this process, I inserted a few response measures of my own to deal with it. Anna style. With a can of spray paint and a bit of art…

And today I am all the better for it as we wait for the SBI plenary to resume with KP and LCA plenaries to come.