Climate negotiators reconvened in Bonn this month for another round of sausages and procedural wrangling, as their December date with destiny and the global spotlight hurtles ever closer. This time all eyes were initially on the newly presented “Tool”. The what? The Tool put forward by the co-chairs of the main negotiating forum as a means to bridge disagreements in the negotiations. Cleverly disguised as looking like any other 83-page UN document, the Tool quickly whipped up strong options on all sides.
As often happens in the hot-house of multilateral negotiations, cultural misunderstandings about the new device quickly started to take their toll. Switzerland began the discussion by laying out its resolutely practical suggestion that the tool should be designed to incorporate a seemingly impossible number of smaller tools cleverly folded up inside a neat red case. They stressed that this collection of appendages must always include a strange pointy one with a hooked end, the one that generations of children have not known what to do but which is allegedly intended for removing stones from horses’ hooves.
The United States quickly took umbrage with the word “tool” due to its negative connotation in their country as slang for an idiot or fool. Despite this reservation, the US delegate stressed that the co-chair’s tool was nevertheless very impressive in its length and form and was a model for others to look up to. At this the United Kingdom delegation disintegrated into fits of uncontrollable giggles, between which they barely recovered enough to explain that their poor American cousins had lost sight of the Shakespearean origins of “tool” as a reference to a sensitive part of the male anatomy. The double mirth of the accidental innuendo and the Americans’ literary shortcomings was simply too much to bear for the usually sardonic Brits.
Having followed this scene with an increasingly confused look, France, incoming COP presidency, took to the floor to note that they had never really understood why the word “tool” had been used at all, given that in their understanding it refers simply to someone of above average height. After all this a veteran NGO observer took the floor, when finally allowed to do so an hour after the session had been scheduled to finish, and proudly showed off his Tool t-shirt, remarking that while he appreciated the tribute to his favourite 90s metal band, climate change was a savagely urgent problem that warranted more than bureaucratic bickering over language.
Away from this important tool-related business, other negotiators found themselves being “sent off to preamble”. Rather than some sort of meditational or philosophical nirvana, this referred simply to a working group aiming to negotiate text on what may become the preamble on the first page of the long-awaited treaty in December. Here there was a surprise for the traditional hard-left axis of the negotiations, the ALBA group, led by Bolivia and Venezuela and a handful of British Corbynistas. Usually the darlings of the NGO fringe at the negotiations, ALBA has always maintained that “Mother Earth” should be front and centre in the negotiations. But this time civil society launched a stinging attack on the flagrant gender bias of this imagery. Why Mother Earth? Should this not refer to Person Earth? Failing to find agreement on this, the text was duly bracketed to allow for Ministers to take a decision on this important issue: “[Mother][Father][Person][Single-parent] Earth and humankind’s treatment of [him][her][it]”.
Elsewhere in the negotiations, the traditional Youth constituency’s opposition to corporate influence in the negotiation process seemed to temporarily melt away as the UNFCCC’s latest corporate sponsor was rolled out complete with new greenwash flavour ice-cream. With delegates and observers tucking into side-by-side sundaes, the atmosphere turned rather festive. But with only a handful of negotiating days left before Paris, ce n’est pas gagné