Saturday 15 December 2007

Out of the mouth of babes - PNG at Climate Summit

Almost farce

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was at the risk of precipitating into a farce – apart from the decision of Australia to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol there was very little good news coming from the convention.

It took the new blood of a new government to change the view of Australia, but we have still had to deal with the recalcitrance of the United States which is now isolated amongst the big Western powers on this subject.

When Al Gore, the Nobel Laureate took centre-stage at the convention he was solemn in stating that his own country was the main impediment to progress in coming to the right kind of consensus, it was the inconvenient truth.

Engage first for consensus

There is no doubt that there is some sense in involving the emerging and developing countries in any framework, but the leadership of the developed economies is first critical by example and persuasion with firm objectives to gain support of all concerned – this climate issue is a global emergency to many losing lands, habitat, water, species and means to survive – something we in the comfort of our detached affluent existence cannot begin to fully appreciate.

The UN Secretary-General reluctantly had to address (BBC Video) the delegations expressing his disappointment that no agreement or consensus was being met, then an accusation that the head of the conference was not running the conference with professional conduct left the poor, exhausted man in tears – offering tissues to wipe the tears would have left me bereft of green credentials even if empathy matters.

Lead, follow or get out of the way

Then the delegate from Papua New Guinea (CIA World Fact Book) had something to say and before we get to that, I would rely on Wikipedia to give us a general idea of where it stands in the world – 54th in land space, 104th in population, 204th in population density, 131st in per capita GDP – he said – “We have a saying, if you are not prepared to lead get out of the way”, he went on to excoriate the United States and pointedly asked them to “either lead, follow or get out of the way”.

By all accounts, it was the most stinging rebuke and I would not be surprised if the media is not showcasing that delegate - Harvard-educated Kevin Conrad - every time countries meet up about climate change and things are getting tough and strained – no doubt, these conferences thrive more on brinkmanship than diplomacy; but for countries we expect to be in leadership to become the stumbling blocks of process, progress, compromise or consensus, we recognise their inability to listen and inability to persuade – consequently, their inability to lead.

It is quite poignant that Mr. Conrad was using America's own words against it when at the beginning of the week, James Connaughton, President Bush's climate change adviser said, "We will lead. We will continue to lead but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow." I am sorry, one other thing he should have realised was that he cannot expect blind follower-ship - we are not ready to fall in line with bad leadership - that should at least be the prerogative of the follower and not at the coercion of leadership. (Source of quote: The Daily Telegraph )

A looming embarrassment

We must not forget that George W. Bush’s alternative climate summit scheduled for January next year was at risk of having no guests if no agreements were reached this time round, and this would have been a serious embarrassment – I am of the view that it should be boycotted anyhow, the United States has to learn to adapt to consensus global politics in issues that affect us all.

It might take the new blood of new government to gain a fully engaged partnership the United States in the climate change debate, but we do not have the time to wait till 2009 for that to happen.

If it takes Papua New Guinea and their sense of the obvious effects of climate change to tell the United States to wake up to their responsibilities – so be it – like the Scriptures say – Out of the mouth of babes … We now have an agreement of sorts.

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