15 NOVEMBER 2009


Seals are among the most active creatures at sea. They never hurt anyone. Always helpful. Not always lucky.

On the way to Copenhagen's Climate Change Conference, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has a valuable issue in hand. He has taken the right positions. Advocated the right cause. Yet between real substance and illusive glitz, he seems tempted to go for the awkward hype. That would have been fine if he was certain of success. All indications point to the need for caution.

For a brief moment, he had to admit to obstacles and difficulties when questioned in London late October by well-prepared reporters. Upon return to Headquarters, however, he was pulled to nowhere land by nowhere advisers who either have no clue about what is happening in the real world or would not admit to the Secretary General that they are unable to deliver. Already there is internal divergence in evaluating the status of the proposed framework. Yvo de Boer, who has been steadily handling the issues even before Kyoto, is taking a practical exploratory approach, while Janos Pasztor, who was brought in recently as "Director of the Secretary General Climate Change Support Team," is in complete denial -- unable to distinguish between his wishful thinking (and very good intentions) and the unfair status of today's world. He is trying to squash any hint of shortcomings in the naive belief that no one would notice. The problem is that, by design, the Secretary General has made Climate Change a major priority of his. Raising expectations when they could not be accomplished in Copenhagen will backfire. It would be far better to indicate up front and early on that Mr. Ban has been doing his best but it is up to member states to reach agreement. Seal the Deal campaign, quite frankly, has been a total failure. It remained within the confines of Secretarial staff; irrelevant and futile, despite a flood of internally circulated photos showing the Secretary General earnestly keen to draw the seal.

This does not mean that the Secretary General is not getting anywhere. He is. But not as far as his incense burners claim. He has a welcoming field ahead of him. And Copenhagen is ready.

Logistically and practically, Denmark is an outstanding master of ceremonies. Bella Centre -- near the airport -- is as ready as always to receive its guests. Heads of State and government will be complemented by an array of dynamic civic society groups drawn not only from around the world but from within the very active Scandinavian non-governmental organizations. Simultaneously, "Klima Forum 09," a "peoples global gathering," will be held at the centre of the city to monitor and pressure participants in the official conference to accomplish visible progress. Although Anders "Fogh" Rasmussen who had issued the initial invitation is no longer Prime Minister, some hope that a "FCCC" in Copenhagen will be facilitated by Connie Hedeguard, Minister of Climate and Energy. Despite obvious obstacles, a breakthrough could still be accomplished, particularly when it is repeatedly highlighted to member states that within only THREE YEARS, that is, in 2012, the Kyoto Protocol will run out.

A main complaint is that the proposed document is too long and the commitments fall too short. 180 pages in Copenhagen (compared to 30 pages in Kyoto) will be cumbersome to handle within the brief time available. The Industrialized nations have not come out with a convincing pledge. A misleading announcement that 15 billion Euros will be offered by the European Community did not clarify that the amount was not likely to come from governments -- but from the private sector which is facing crippling difficulties during the financial crisis. The amount is practically non-existent, raising doubts around developing countries that they are being offered "fish in murky seas." Besides, there was a hint that assistance offered on Climate Change may be diverted from funds currently allocated for development assistance. It is not additional money but an alternative venture. In turn, oil rich countries are demanding special funds to "compensate" for required measures. Developing countries are requesting wealthy ones to supply money and technology to help them adapt to the impact of climate change. Developed countries respond that money is too tight these days and technology is mainly in the hands of private companies not public services. A main aim is to agree on a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent a rise in temperature. More than 2 - 3 degrees Centigrade would cause crippling damage -- rising seas, more storms and drought threatening millions of people.

With so many complications and such varied issues, the Secretary General could have been better served by more than just a peripheral "support team." The bungled "one day summit" in New York last September should have been a signal that a wider network has to be mobilized in time for a crucial conference.

Copenhagen is ready for the U.N. Is the U.N. ready for Copenhagen?