"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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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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