"The fate of my country rests in your hands"

Today's highs and lows at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen

Talks have stalled in Copenhagen today, after the G77 nations pulled out of the debate to "avoid a train wreck at the end of the week". Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, who works with the G77 nations, said: "Australia and Japan are crying foul while blocking movement on legally binding emissions reductions for rich countries. This tit-for-tat approach is no way to deal with the climate crisis."

The conflict is over the difficult issue of mitigation, the financing of emission reductions, and green development in developing countries. Developed countries are stalling in putting a figure on the table.

World leaders have started to roll in to Copenhagen today and the heightened tempo of the agreements is obvious outside the Bella Centre, where accredited negotiators, press and observers are facing four-hour queues to get in. The organisers of the summit have issued 35,000 passes for a centre with a maximum capacity of 15,000: not exactly a pillar of Danish efficiency.

As negotiations heat up, one of the main concerns among NGOs today focuses on the transparency of negotiations. Yesterday, a group of 48 country representatives met outside the conference. The meeting, known as the Green Room, was hosted by the COP presidency. Pablo Solón, Bolivian ambassador to the UN, said: "We are asking for a transparent, democratic, and inclusive process. It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the 'Green Room', in small stealth dinners with selective guests." There is a real sense of uncertainty among smaller nations. The threat of walkouts is constant and promises to provide continued drama during the week.

Yesterday, the Tuvalu delegate Ian Fry made an emotional speech to the conference, outlining the powerlessness that smaller states are beginning to feel. He addressed the summit president, Connie Hedegaard: "I am a humble and insignificant member of the government of Tuvalu . . . I woke this morning and I was crying, and that's not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands."

However, contrary to my earlier post, it's not all doom and gloom inside the centre. One of the most positive outcomes that this conference is set to achieve is in forest protection and reforestation, known as REDD. I talked to delegates from Gabon last night, who represent a country that is 80 per cent forested land and has the lowest rate of deforestation in the world. They were very positive about outcomes for a treaty to protect forests and forest communities.

Yesterday the REDD lobby succeeded in getting the signature of the governor of Amazonia and environmental economist Nicholas Stern as well as hundreds of others. Leaders are expected to use REDD to buy themselves time and carbon credit. But opposition to the movement comes from the Congo Basin and Papau New Guinea, which argue that developed nations will not commit to binding land-use regulation.

 

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.