Emotional temperatures rising as expectations fall

Lenore Taylor
The Australian
December 14, 2009

WITH so much anticipation, so much at stake, so many people watching and so little progress, emotions at the Copenhagen climate meeting are starting to run high. Ian Fry, the bow tie-wearing Queanbeyan resident who is chief negotiator for the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu, almost broke down as he explained to the conference the reason for the hardline stand Tuvalu had taken — a stand that had stalled negotiations for more than a day.

Fry, on behalf of Tuvalu and other small island states for which sea-level rise is a survival issue, has been insisting that the conference consider a second binding protocol to run alongside the Kyoto Protocol, taking in the US and China — the world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters — and other developing countries not required to make emission reductions under the 1997 Japanese agreement.

Standing against the world on behalf of a country with a population of 12,000 clearly put Fry under enormous pressure. One of many arguing that Tuvalu should back down in the interests of getting on with the talks was Kevin Rudd, according to conference delegates.

Explaining his stance, Fry said: "This is not an ego trip for me. I have refused to undertake media interviews. I am merely a humble and insignificant employee of the Environment Department of Tuvalu.

"I woke this morning and I was crying, and that is not easy for a grown man to admit," he said, his voice wavering. "The fate of my country rests in your hands."

Passions were also strong at a candlelight vigil outside the conference centre, marking the end of a march by 40,000 people from the city to the hopelessly misnamed Bella conference centre demanding that their politicians strike a "real deal" on reducing greenhouse emissions.

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the vigil: "We want to remind you that they marched in Berlin and the wall fell. They marched in Cape Town and apartheid fell. They marched in Copenhagen and we are going to get a real deal."

The shame is that the sheer intensity of the collective effort of the demonstrators seems inversely proportional to the actual progress being made. Conference organisers hope that the thought of the anger and dashed expectations that would follow a failure at the talks will weigh on the minds of leaders when they arrive later in the week.

Asked whether the thought of disappointing so many played on negotiators' minds, Danish environment minister and conference president Connie Hedegaard said: "I am absolutely sure that leaders consider that very much, and personally I think it has taken years to build up the pressure we have seen around the world and I believe that has contributed to making the political price for not delivering in Copenhagen very high."

** End report


And further angst in Warsaw four years later.