TWN Info Service
on Climate Change (Nov09/05)
Please find attached
a very interesting article in the UK Guardian dated 7 November 2009
on the climate talks. It features Ms. Bernarditas Mueller of the
With best wishes,
the lid on climate change talks
At 8am on Wednesday
7 October, a smartly dressed fiftysomething Filipino woman took the
escalator to the first floor of the UN building in
Bernarditas de Castro Muller – "Ditas" to her chums – chatted to a journalist and a colleague, and then went to work in conference room 1. She spread her papers in front of her, stood up and began to belch fire, tearing the flesh off three Americans and chewing two Europeans. After swallowing them whole, she sat back down.
She didn't, of course, but such is Bernarditas's reputation as a "dragon woman" in the epic UN climate talks which should conclude next month in Copenhagen that if she had, no one (least of all the US and British governments who seem to fear and loathe her) would have been too surprised.
In the outwardly polite yet vicious world of UN climate change diplomacy, where negotiators use every trick to further national interests and where battles rage over commas, colons and semi-colons, Bernarditas is seen by most poor countries as a heroic defender of their rights. But most rich countries paint her as a machiavellian, Soviet-style hardliner holding back an agreement to save the world.
de Castro Muller. Photograph: Gian Paul Lozza Bernarditas is officially
an environment adviser to the Filipino government, and lead negotiator
and co-ordinator of the 130 developing countries in the umbrella group
known as the G77 plus
It's her job – along
with a few other G77 negotiators – to keep together the traditionally
squabbling poor nations at least until the major power blocks like the
But this sweaty
Environmentalists say the series of disasters should concentrate minds, but with just six full negotiating days before world leaders join the final conference of the parties in Copenhagen, the diplomats of 181 countries present in Bangkok have failed to agree on the big issues: what carbon cuts rich countries should make, how much money the poor should get to help them adapt to climate change, and where that money should come from. A draft text has been hacked down by negotiators from 250-odd pages to half that, leaving the UN bureaucracy optimistic – but everyone knows it has been painfully slow.
In these talks nobody
moves until everybody moves, so most of the big issues will now only
be resolved by politicians in late-night horse-trading sessions at very
end of next month's talks in
The poor, represented
mostly by the G77 and
If the climate talks
are a game of diplomatic chess, the rich countries have just moved their
white queen into the back row of the developing countries' territory.
But have they underestimated the reaction this will get? Can the G77
insists she does not represent the views of the G77, is appalled. For
"I say, aren't
we all in this world together? Didn't we all sign this?" she says
to a small audience in the UN coffee bar that morning, brandishing a
well-thumbed copy of the 20-page
She turns to page
7 where she has underlined paragraphs: "Look!" she says, jabbing
the text with her index finger. "Article 4. It says 'shall'. That
is legally binding. There are obligations here. The words are not there
by chance. And there's the word 'fully'. We spent hours on that word.
We agreed on it. Are they saying it no longer applies? These are very
serious negotiations. The
To negotiate successfully
at this level means you must understand your opponents and are able
to argue all night. Bernarditas does that, but friend and foe say she
has a special advantage because she is not only a stickler for detail
but she knows the UN climate change convention and the
"She is the
protector of the convention," says a colleague (in the world of
diplomacy no one wants to be identified). "I'd hate to negotiate
against her. She reminds me of Humpty Dumpty when he said to
A western friend,
who also asks not to be named, says: "She is used by the G77 and
Bernaditas herself says: "Few people have dealt with the talks since the beginning [like me] and can still remember what we wrote. The majority don't see what we fought so hard for. [They say] this or that sounds reasonable. But I say that the words matter. They don't mean the same thing to everyone but they determine the levels of the relationship. There are words that do not appear that we talk about for hours.
"I use their [the rich countries'] language. I spell it better. I don't make grammatical mistakes like they do. It angers them. I never get angry, I'm not subservient, nor impressed. They say, 'She cannot be right, she's only a woman and must be weak.' "
"Clearly she is successful," says a European observer. "They would not employ her otherwise. But it would please the annex 1 [industrialised] countries a lot if she were not there. She is very dangerous to their interests. She doesn't hesitate to remind them all the time that they are in breach of their obligations. They roll their eyes and say, 'There she goes again.' "
"Actually, she's really like my mum," says a young Malaysian barrister. "She is sweet but very authoritative."
Bernarditas de Castro
Muller is a grandmother who lives in
"I am only
a housewife, actually," she says. "My husband doesn't even
trust me with the household budget. My education was totally western
and I have spent most of my life in
Climate change is the most complex and satisfying of all the diplomacy she has done because it is science-based, it is about development, but mainly because there is so much at stake. Get it right, she says, and the world has the chance to both halt catastrophic climate change and find a better path to develop. Get it wrong and all the injustices and disadvantages that developing countries now face will be magnified 1,000 times in the coming years.
"Climate change is making the poor even more vulnerable and threatening to destroy their health and their homes," she says.
She was persuaded
to fight for climate justice when she went back to live in
"I now see developing countries who have so little… they get peanuts. They think if someone gives them anything they should be grateful. [But] developed countries have taken on obligations to provide money. This is not voluntary bilateral aid, or charity that we are negotiating from the annex 1 countries. This is a commitment.
"When we were negotiating in the 1990s, all of us were caught up in environment and development. We were full of ideals. We said, 'Yes, we have to do something, because the world is getting lost.' Now I tell the developing countries that I am not working for them but for their children's children and what we will leave the world."
Even seasoned diplomats
find the talks surreal, with an arcane language, logic and a pace of
their own. In three years, they have gone well beyond being just about
emission cuts and now embrace development, trade, finance, carbon markets,
forestry, science and technology. Because they are so complex, most
nations belong to one or another of the negotiating blocs, like the
G77, the EU, the
Negotiators are mainly anonymous civil servants who have some freedom to set positions but can hide from their public, which is mostly denied access to the talks. They admit to personal duels and tactical manoeuvres. Phrases that might protect the world's forests or condemn nuclear power may be there one day, but be removed the next, and no one can say why or who is responsible.
But as the talks have progressed, so the negotiators admit to becoming lost in their own verbiage. There have been long debates over whether a comma, a colon or a semicolon should be used in the text; arguments have raged about the meaning of "sustainable forest management" as opposed to "sustainable management of forests"; and hours have been spent by nations debating the differences between "economic development" and "sustainable development".
Now the talks have invented their own language. There are Bingos (business and industry non-governmental groups) who discuss Mrvs (measurable, reportable and verifiable), Namas (nationally appropriate mitigation actions) and Napas (national adaptation programmes of action). One important section is known as Redd (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation); another is called Lulucf (land-use, land-use change and forestry) which probably only 50 people in the world half-understand. Meanwhile, more than 100 "non-papers" have been issued which reflect nations' points of view without being formal positions.
"It is easily the most complex piece of diplomacy ever devised," says one British diplomat. "A set of interlocking negotiations taking place on parallel tracks, ranging from aviation to trade and forests to adaptation, finance and science. It's quite possible it will all collapse under its own weight.
"There are many people who try to keep the language incomprehensible. There's a relationship between power and transparency – it's about keeping people out. The only people who really understand the lingo are the people who wrote it. It needs another industry of people to translate the words so they can be understood. I remember my first experience in the negotiations. I concluded after 25 minutes that I was in a madhouse. It was one of the most professionally disconcerting experiences of my life," he says.
He recalls seeing Bernarditas in action for the first time: "There was what was called the Gang of Four – Bernarditas, a Chinese negotiator we called Professor No because he said no to everything, an Indian and a Saudi. They acted as the 'they shall not pass' group. Bernarditas was scary. You could imagine her as one of the Gang of Four in the Chinese upheavals. She and Professor No were fighting a 1960s ideological war in which the rich were trying to screw the poor and vice versa."
Several weeks later, this point was put to Bernarditas. "What do they mean by ideological war?" she thundered. "What are they saying? They should specify. What do they not like? What do they mean by 1960s ideology? Fidel [Castro]? The opening up of traditions? Opposition to the colonial mentality? They have to specify what! No, I don't live up to their prejudices of what is a third-world woman, that's what they don't like about me.
"But if they mean 1960s ideology in the sense of keeping economic gains, yes. They just do not accept they have historical responsibility. It's like I burn down your house and you become rich but now they say you can pay for it yourself. Well, you might be rich, but your brothers and sisters also lost their houses. Are you free from responsibility because one member of your family becomes rich?"
She says the dice
are loaded against the poor. Africa is experiencing climate change faster
and deeper than almost anywhere else, and could be devastated within
30 years, yet its 55 countries have been offered no money by the rich
to adapt and can afford to bring only 145 official delegates between
has more than 450 delegates, with the
The US or Japan may fly in people to advise them on the precise wording of a single paragraph, and as the talks reach their climax, rich countries will have whole teams of people to take it in turns to be on the frontline of the negotiations, staying fresh while their less well resourced opponents are exhausted.
countries don't have enough people, they don't even understand the text.
They are exhausted after a few days and cannot even get to the meetings,"
says Meena Rahman from Third World Network, an NGO based in
From a poor country's perspective, it is easy to suspect institutional bias. The executive secretary of the talks is Yvo de Boer, a Dutch diplomat, who himself has succeeded another Dutchman. His deputy is Canadian, and many of the senior secretariat and core groups are staffed by middle-aged white men. The media at the talks is mostly western and the language throughout is English.
"Of course we complain all the time," says an African diplomat. "If you control the process, you control the discussion and the texts. That's how you manipulate the outcome. It's very easy really."
Is this a sensible
or fair way to go about re-ordering the world's economies to counter
something as important as climate change? "No," says an exhausted
Swedish diplomat in
As the talks conclude,
the tactics get dirtier and the road to
But while she suspected
a crude attempt to smear her, she was unable to prove anything and last
week the head of the
"It's quite inconceivable. Bernarditas does not even need the money. She is incorruptible. That's why they hate her," says one of her colleagues. "But she and the Saudis no longer sit near each other for fear that the rumours are restarted."
"It's an idiot putting that about. It will backfire. God, how stupid can you get!" said a British observer. "It's below the belt… we should not think the Brits are immune [from these tactics]."
Bernarditas herself stays aloof. "Each one is looking for the weakness of the other. It's very vicious. But there are big commercial interests at stake. They exploit the weaknesses of people and exacerbate the differences between countries. It's part of the game," she says.
So, too, is the
rhetoric now being employed by leaders of rich countries in the last
crucial weeks before
The rhetoric is
reciprocated with the poor: "Developed countries have overconsumed
their share of the atmospheric space – they ate the pizza and left us
the crumbs," said ambassador Anjelica Navarro of
In a few weeks' time the talks will reconvene possibly for the last time in Copenhagen under the glare of the world's media and with the extra ingredient of high emotion brought by thousands of environment, human rights and development groups from around the world. But in diplomatic terms, the real talks are nearly over, having taken place behind closed doors between fewer and fewer countries. In the last month, there have been high-level meetings in London, Beijing, Delhi and Washington, with the US, Europe, Japan and the EU all trying to work out their position and agree what offer they are prepared to make.
"They are now working together to split the developing countries, in order to weaken their political positions and isolate them before they make them offers and get their way," says Rahman.
The way this is
being done, she says, is via those countries who are most vulnerable
to climate change. The British in particular have worked with the
"They can expect
tempting sweeteners to break away from the G77, and threats if they
do not play ball," says Meena Rahman, who is also a former chair
of Friends Of The Earth International. "It looks brilliant in PR
terms. It looks like the British are helping the weakest but they are
really peeling off the poorest and weakening
But another diplomat sees the tactical advantage in working with the poorest. "If you can convince the most vulnerable countries that there is a serious funding offer on the table, then you can open up another front which helps a lot of third-party things. Tactics? It's never thought out before, it's always [negotiations] by the seat of the pants. There are too many events to react to. It's always chaotic. It's a weird game."
In the end, exhausted ministers from the three great power blocks, the US, the EU and China, will probably make a deal of sorts between themselves in the small hours of 17 December in Copenhagen. By then, the world's really poor countries will have long been diplomatically blown away from the negotiations with promises of cash soon and greater reward later. The G77 and its negotiators like Bernarditas will congratulate themselves for obtaining the best possible deal in the circumstances and the rich countries will insist the world is on a new, cleaner, greener development path.
There will be something for everyone because everyone wants something, and the politicians will be able to go home waving a communiqué that commits countries and industries to taking action to reduce emissions. Whether it is anywhere like enough, fast enough, to prevent a climate catastrophe, or is just or equitable, is another matter.
Because in western
diplomatic terms, if there is not complete failure, then there can be
one of only two outcomes to these climate talks.