Environment Forum

Auxiliary verbs at 10pm and the scarcest resource – sleep

December 17, 2009

CO2tonneThe issues are global and urgent, but the bureaucracy can sometimes be mind-bogglingly slow and petty.

After a day of stalled talks, the 193 nations at UN-led climate talks finally met for a plenary to discuss one of the main drafts floating around the summit, just two days (and two hours) from the deadline for a deal.

First on the agenda – auxiliary verbs. There was a discussion of should vs shall, before an appeal from the chair.

“I would ask you to consider the most scarce resource in this room – sleep”

Her request was applauded, but the talks anyway soon plunged into a discussion of clauses and sub-clauses.

An Indian delegate directed others in the room to turn to page six, paragraph 23, addendum 5. The Brazilians wanted to add “voluntary” after one phrase.

Eventually the meeting was steered back to the bigger picture. The negotiators wanted to know where the wider talks, and the draft were going.

“Consultations are underway on how to proceed. The results of those consultations will be presented tomorrow morning,” the chair said.

Many in the hall were unhappy about this. Would the small countries be left out? Should they leave phone numbers for Denmark’s prime minister – the president of the conference – to call them on when he has worked out how he wants to consult, they asked?

The chair’s response, essentially admitting she didn’t really know, summed up both the terrible bureaucracy of these international meetings, and the terrible peril this one is in of ending without anything substantial being achieved.

“The president is consulting on how to have those consultations…I think we will all agree that this has been an extraordinary day. The road is yet not clear.”

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