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Bullying at climate talks

December 2, 2011

As the climate talks in Durban continue, Western countries have been warned against reverting to 'bullying' tactics to forward their own agendas.

Protest poster in Durban
A placard mocks the Green Climate FundImage: World Development Movement

A new report by the World Development Movement (WDM), makes serious allegations relating to the climate talks in Copenhagen and Cancun. Developing countries have described pressure tactics used on the sidelines as 'deceitful' and 'unfair'.

Representatives from many of the world's poorest nations claim that they were harassed by officials from Britain and the United States, and pressured to sign agreements that were against their interests. Many of the negotiators who gave information to the report's authors have done so anonymously.

Attempts to kill Kyoto

The report, tited 'The End Game in Durban?' says key points from the Copenhagen Accord were decided in secret meetings which many developing countries were excluded from.

Delegates in Durban
Delegates from almost 200 countres are participating in the talksImage: World Development Movement

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Miriam Ross, a campaigner with the WDM, said those talks were steered away from the binding emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol towards a new system of voluntary pledges. "Western countries abandoned the multilateral UN process," she said.

Ross accused leading industrial nations of using bullying tactics. "By making finance dependent on their political acquiescence, developing countries were forced to accept a deal that goes against what they intended to negotiate for."

Developing nations claim they were effectively bribed into signing the agreements in Copenhagen as Western funding, which would make it possible for them to tackle climate change, was available on condition of their compliance.

Talks Doomed

But some analysts think poorer nations were naive and had unreasonable expectations.

"It was never a process where developing countries were involved in the most immediate negotiations," said Matthew Sinclair, author of the book 'Let Them Eat Carbon'. "This was always going to be the case."

Sahel Afrika Dürre
Climate change its taking its toll in places like the Sahel region of AfricaImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Sinclair supports those calling for a decentralized climate policy. "It's one of the reasons why having policy which relies upon these grand international agreements are doomed because you're never going to get agreements where the smallest nations are able to make sovereign decisions," he said.

Negotiators for developing nations told the report's authors that a combination of tactics were used to confuse and coerce delegates. At one stage, said one representative at the Copenhagen conference, there were 26 meetings taking place simultaneously. Another claimed that negotiators who dared to speak up were later demoted or fired, as a result of external pressures.

Britain promises aid

Just ahead of the opening of the Durban conference, the British government revealed details of a £1 billion (1.16 billion euros) aid program to help African nations deal with climate change. Campaigners said the timing was a cynical attempt to make it clear that countries that fail to support Britain's position in the negotiations had something to lose.

WDM's Miriam Ross told Deutsche Welle that most of the aid from Britain has been earmarked for Ethiopia and South Africa. "Those are two of the countries which are most closely aligned in their negotiation with Britain," she said. "So that sends a clear message that climate finance from the UK is there for those that toe the line."

Protests continue outside the UN climate change talks in DurbanImage: World Development Movement

Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change denied that developing countries were "being forced to do anything".

In a statement, the government office said, "The UK's international climate finance is in response to requests for assistance to adjust to the impacts of climate change and to move to low carbon development paths".

When asked to comment on the report in an interview with Deutsche Welle, British officials declined.

Undo the damage

The World Development Movement has urged Western countries to stop trying to wriggle out of their commitments on emissions targets and put things right in Durban.

"No more secret backroom deals," said Ross. "No more attempts to play developing countries off against each other. And the transfer of finance from developed to developing countries should be routed through the UN, rather than being used, as it has for the last two years, as a tool for governments to get what they want."

Many delegates at the talks in Durban have said that they don't expect Durban to result in any major changes. Nevertheless, the conference is considered an important step in securing a legally binding agreement to keep global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius.

Author: Nik Martin
Editor: Saroja Coelho