Friday, 18 December 2009

The train to Elsinore is delayed

Copenhagen, Thursday

The train to Elsinore is delayed indefinitely, I noticed. Standing on the freezing platform at Copenhagen airport news also comes through that the Climate Change talks are similarly stalled.

The leaders, most of whom have now arrived for their walk on roles in the great environmental drama, are said more indecisive than the great Dane himself when it comes to saving the planet. “To be or not to be, that is the question,” and after years of preparation and ten days of talking, it has boiled down to that Shakespearean equation and still they cannot strike a deal.

First, how to get to this conference. Getting to Copenhagen was carbon busting enough. With the Prime Minister deciding to save the world earlier in the week than scheduled the Herald had to make it’s own way to Denmark. The cost of going by train was £359 and 16 hours which compared to a cheap airline - £79 and one and a half hours - captured the climate change debate in a nutshell.

The weather is so cold that these hundreds of bikes stacked around the railway station must be frozen in for the winter. They cannot cycle in this weather, can they? But they do - statuesque valkyries kick frozen slush of the spindles before mounting and puffing off in clouds of condensing breath. Now, that is commitment to reducing your carbon footprint.

Outside the hotel the British delegation has been billeted in the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Summer, is docked at the pier. “Politicians talk, leaders decide” is the slogan strung over the gunnel. There were no great signs of statesmanship although Hilary Clinton announced yesterday morning that the US would back the $100bn deal to help developing countries

That should have raised spirits but out in the Bella Centre - can’t miss it, just past the giant Vestas wind turbine and the small group of frostbitten, protesting Africans - the mood in the massive hall remained gloomy. A deal is a long way off.

The conference barn hosted what looked like a crew of the Star Ship Enterprise reunion. Every nation on the planet is represented and they have all bought along three television channels each.

With the talks mired in procedurals Gordon Brown used his speech to call for a bit more ambition please and shuffled from talks to other talks. The Zarkozy and Merkel entourage would go one way across the conference hall, creating a human bow wave that cast aside delegates sipping coffee and watching screens. A few moment’s later Gordon Brown’s armada would sail the other way.

UK officials muttered that the process was in "serious difficulty" with time running out to sort out a deal but Mr Brown himself remained doggedly optimistic.

After talks with the Chinese president the Prime Minister declared that the conference was now more than half way to a deal. “Absolutely,” he said, though he added a note of caution: “Nothing’s agreed till everything is agreed. This is a unique process present. Everyone has a general wish to get an agreement but it’s very complex indeed.”

The main man flies in on Friday morning although such are the levels of despair that it was rumoured that Barack Obama would stay away. But with China signalling it would move on transparency, the EU could raise it’s game on cutting emissions, and the US throwing in cash a deal, an agreement in principle, was closer than the Brown team thought possible 24 hours earlier. Dinner with the Queen of Denmark - scallops, turkey and date cake to the strains of “Here comes the sun” - was like Hamlet’s play within a play, or talks within talks late into the night.

A legally binding agreement will have to wait to another conference in Mexico which Mr Brown indicated would come earlier in 2010, possibly July. That may be in time to save the world, but with a UK election due before then, will it be in time to save Gordon Brown?

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