BUFING syndrome for Obama

  • 15/12/2009

Obama will grace COP15. And that is the biggest story out here. The story is so big that negotiators are forced to take this fact into their negotiating account. Why? It is because Obama cannot afford to lose a game. It does not really matter if the atmosphere or the planet goes to hell. Bottom line is that Obama must be able to claim a victory.

The most visible element in the actual negotiation in the last 8 days was a deliberate stalling mechanism on all fronts by the rich nations. The race to jeopardising all agreed principles from Bali was most obvious at Bangkok. It has been made complete at Copenhagen. Denmark, the host party wants a single new agreement, creatively called the Copenhagen agreement. Responding to the draft, the Chinese team observed, “the title itself is problematic because it creates an expectation and an impression that this document will eventually form the basis of and be reflected in a new treaty instrument”. This new draft rubbishes all old principles, dilutes the responsibility of the rich nations, puts relatively high burden on certain economies within developing nations, and does not reflect concretely on technology and financial transfer to poorer countries. In the meantime, another proposal forwarded by Tuvalu and then picked up by Small Island States [AOSIS] calls for restricting temperature increase to 1.5ºC, which will call for even deeper cuts by developed nations. Interestingly, while this proposal was being contested by India and China, big countries within G77+China, otherwise sympathetic to the cause of the small islands and Least Developed Countries [LDCs], rich nations did not oppose it. They just sat back and relished the fight between countries within G77+China. It did not bother them even it was calling for stronger reduction by the rich nations. A senior Chinese negotiator in a private conversation commented that it seems they want to stall everything and buy time. Obviously, there were insinuations in the lobby about a small country being bought over by the rich nation to reach a longstanding objective of creating a crack in G77+China. 

Why will the US president be coming to Copenhagen in such a confusing scenario? How can he win as a global dealmaker with deeper mistrust than ever before between rich and developing nations? The mistrust grew as financial transfer for technology acquisition was pegged at a meager 10 billion US dollars, with US refusing to pledge anything for long-term assistance. To top that, EU declared another miserly amount as adaptation fund. The suspicion is growing. There must be a hidden plan, the last moment plan in the midst of confusion that will be sugarcoated by Obama charm during the ministerial meetings.

If we look at it, the way it is now, nothing seems to suggest that Obama will return from Copenhagen victorious. In fact, Obama will go through his first BUFING syndrome in international diplomacy in Copenhagen; he’s bound to burn his fingers.

So there was a rumour two days ago that he was canceling his trip to COP15. The rumour coincided with both India and China suggesting that respective heads of states would also skip the ritual photo session if Obama did not come. Negotiators from the developing countries by then started sensing the trick and issued statements that negotiations needed to stop before the ministers come, to avoid the Obama charm on their ministers. No one can refuse Obama; the US propaganda machine almost terms it as ‘immoral’. Along the corridor of the delegation offices, people also mentioned that things are being decided at the highest level, US and EU being ‘online’ all the time. Some also suggest aggressive arm-twisting by the US state department to toe the Obama line. African negotiators on Sunday explicitly said that their heads were not to turn up in Copenhagen unless a clear agreement was ready by Wednesday. No negotiator wants to leave the negotiation to their ministers. There is a general fear in the corridor that Indian prime minister may bend backward to please Obama. It may be a possibility, but domestic political compulsion may tie Manmohan Singh and Jairam Ramesh’s hands in an outright compromise.

So, there is now categorical clarification that the US president will be coming. And he may burn his fingers.

But he does not like losing. Spin doctors have already pitched that it took only a leader like Obama to get China and India on board when these two ‘renegades’ agreed to unsupported domestic actions of reducing emission intensity.

What will be a Copenhagen deal? Rumour, as in the beginning of the negotiation is that there will be no legally binding agreement, but a political agreement that there is a problem and a legally binding agreement will be drawn in the near future. PR machinery has drummed up a feeling that he will get the assembled world leaders to politically agree to the horror of climate change! And that will be his victory.

It is absolutely evident now that the rich nations do not want to take deep domestic reduction of emissions. They are not prepared to pledge any substantial money on the table for mitigation technology and adaptation. They do not want to talk about historical responsibility. But they want to talk about future emission by emerging economies.

Smart guys in Obama camp have been painstakingly explaining his domestic compulsions, about how difficult it is to turn a bill into a law in the US. It almost suggests that the rest of the world is a Banana Republic. They have also introduced a tinge of threatening tune in their story. They point out that if we push Obama too much, he may be destabilised by the evil guys, and he remains our last hope. 

Obama remains the last hope of the world while he delivers to his domestic constituency only. The mood outside the Bella Centre, where the negotiations are held is also hostile to the US president. The demonstration on last Sunday had generous amount of nasty slogans about Obama. Last evening, young and smart president Nasheed of Maldives went out of the official meeting place and dropped in at the alternative climate forum at the city central. His objective was clear, he was mobilising the activists’ support for tougher action. It was interesting to watch young crowd at the forum claiming flamboyant Nasheed as the global president. These are the global kids who backed Obama a few months ago, hoping major change in world order.

It will be really good for Mr. Obama and the rest of the world, if he really burns his fingers at Copenhagen. He may get real after that.