“I’M SORRY,” said the UN bureaucrat, a flush of emotion flickering across his perspiring face. “I’m sorry, but this is something that bothers me a lot.” He paused to compose himself.
The problem was the Saudi Arabians, who the previous night had threatened to block the passage of a parcel of agreements at the ongoing UN climate change summit in Durban. They were demanding an addition to it—a commitment to look into ways to compensate oil producers for the losses they would suffer if the world stopped burning fossil fuels. If this did not happen, the oil sheikhs would withhold their support from the entire package, of finance, forestry, technology and other climate-friendly measures.
Most of the scores of diplomats present were appalled. Not least those from small island nations, like Kiribati and Tuvalu, which are likely to disappear beneath the rising seas long before the Saudis have drained their last well. But it mattered naught. Agreements can only be reached at the UN climate summit—properly known as the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP 17)—through a consensus of the 200-odd countries represented at it. After a fraught few hours of bickering, the Saudis got their wretched commitment.
“It’s no coincidence that countries like that have the best-paid, most highly-skilled and biggest teams of negotiators,” said the UN man glumly. “So when everyone else is falling over with exhaustion, they can introduce fresh people and hammer away until they get what they want.”