Copenhagen – Now a closed shop

Even at the best of times the UNFCCC process is a challenge for business and civil society. After all, it is an intergovernmental negotiation and there is no formal role for anybody else other than governments. But we all head to the negotiations anyway, in part to try and follow the process but also to talk to the various participants. The UN oversees all this and on a regular basis, this time being no exception, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer encourages non-government parties at the conference to “contribute to the process” or “explain what is needed” or even “offer negotiating text”. Of course it isn’t just business trying to get thinking across, there are also a vast array of environmental, political, religious and civil society representatives there all trying to share their perspectives with the delegations. But the process itself isn’t really designed for such interaction.

At each UNFCCC meeting one or two major business organisations are given an opportunity to address the plenary and on every occasion that I can remember this seems to get reduced to one or two minutes as the time approaches – so the carefully worded business statement that didn’t say a whole lot anyway suddenly gets trimmed from a couple of pages to a few bullet points and that is it. But the process roles on and through painstaking repetition and endless hallway discussions the messages on levels of investment needed to achieve the needed emission goals, the capital flows, technology, intellectual property, competitiveness, carbon markets and so on sink in. We all know that many people aren’t happy with even this level of influence in the process, but the reality is that business is an important part of the way our economies function and that any new constraints placed on the economy, such as emissions limitations, need to be able to work and deliver within the system that we have.

The new reality, at least for this week, is that this is a now closed shop. Whereas last week anybody that turned up with accreditation could enter the Bella Centre, on Tuesday just 7000 non-government people were allowed in. By Friday it will be literally a handful of NGOs allowed in the centre as over 100 heads of government and many more ministers arrive for the final showdown. After many years of participating in this process it’s a pity to miss the last hurrah, but given how it is all going, there will be plenty more opportunity in 2010 (and beyond I suspect). So it is time to leave Copenhagen to the government and media and watch it all on CNN at home . . . .