The multi-headed beast of the UNFCCC shook itself awake this week from a long seasonal hibernation, rose grumpily and started looking around for something good to eat. Finding itself once again in Bonn’s Hotel Maritim it quickly abandoned that idea as hopeless and turned instead to the year’s negotiation activities. And what have we here?
When the casual observer thinks of the famous oil cartel, OPEC, climate change negotiations would probably not be the first thing that springs to mind. Yet this year’s negotiations seem to be dominated by the illustrious petroleum club, with unlikely characters popping up in influential positions all over the process. Firstly of course this year’s COP will be held in Qatar, that gulf state famous for its hydrocarbons, its hydrocarbons and its hydrocarbons with, well, no noticeable presence at all in the UNFCCC talks to date. The negotiating body for Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA), still a critical negotiation track even as it limps through what is potentially its last year, will be chaired by Saudi Arabia; not necessarily the most long-term and cooperative of UNFCCC Parties (their insistence on being compensated for future drops in oil revenues even drove a couple of deranged NGO participant to an act of mindless vandalism and stupidity in the smelly bowels of the Hotel Maritim in Bonn this time two years ago). And the rotating chair of the G77, perhaps the most powerful of the country groupings because it represents almost all developing countries, this year falls to…Algeria, OPEC member since 1969. Plus we have Iran proposing that the nascent Climate Technology Center be hosted by its national Petroleum Institute. Who might be next?
And then we have a curious correlation that seems to be developing between hosting environmental negotiations and organising football tournaments. We saw South Africa switch from World Cup to World COP in 2010-11; Germany, regular UNFCCC hosts, did so in 2006; Poland has been a bit slower off the mark, with 4 years between its 2008 COP and Euro 2012 that will kick off imminently partly within its borders. The world’s biggest football event will follow the world’s biggest environmental gathering to Rio in 2014; then to Qatar in 2022. Still, perhaps there’s something to be learnt here…negotiations might be easier in front of 80,000 live spectators, with strong referees, red cards and the threat of penalty shoot-outs. Deal.