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COP15 Copenhagen climate summit: Day 4

Richard Black | 14:12 UK time, Thursday, 10 December 2009

1720 CET: In a brief interlude between chasing scoops with one hand and writing news stories with the other, I thought I'd give you an insight or two into how we do our job here.

People waiting to enter the UN climate conference in CopenhagenMaybe if I can paint a quick warts-and-all picture of how it works, that'll act as a lens through which you can view our reporting, in all its shades of good and bad.

Yesterday I outlined the main official threads of the negotiations - the AWG-LCA, AWG-KP, SBI and SBSTA.

But those sessions are far from being the only places where news happens - in fact, for long stretches of their deliberations, news doesn't happen, unless you count the changing of "should" to "ought to" in sub-paragraph 6.3 of document FCCC/KP/CMP/2009/16 as "news".

Some news happens in news conferences, which are scheduled through the day in an endless stream. This afternoon's offerings started with the Coalition for Rainforest Nations at 1300 and runs through to the Least Developed Countries bloc at 1900, taking in 10 others on the way, including the Eastern European Group, the League of Arab States and OPEC.

Those are just the official news conferences.

NGOs and scientific organisations and business groups and sometimes national delegations organise their own, more ad-hoc gatherings - and you might or might not be invited, depending on whether the organisers know of your existence and whether they consider you to be important. With 5,000 journalists registered, those criteria are far from guaranteed.

Most of the real deals are done behind closed doors guarded by security guys with stern faces and impressive pectorals.

That's where the important countries and blocs reveal more of their real demands, where trades are bartered between national delegations.

Reporting it is a nightmare.

Who do you know who might have an insight? If the answer is "no-one", then who do you know who might know someone who might have an insight, and have their mobile number to hand?

Once you connect with that person, can you trust what they're telling you? Are they spinning you a line, and if so, what might the reason be?

Over time, you build up relationships with certain delegations and with people close to certain delegations, and you work out a kind of modus operandi that gets you some of the information you'll need.

In smaller gatherings that I've reported on - such as some of the fisheries meetings, where far fewer than 192 countries are represented and many of them are bit-part players - you feel reasonably confident of having a line on everything important that's going on.

Not here; it's impossible. Some journalist somewhere knows something you don't, you can guarantee that; and you just hope it's not more important than the thing you know that they don't.

Once something happens, the first job is to make sense of it. What does the African bloc really want its walk-out to achieve? Why is Tuvalu pressing a two-track approach so hard? What's the significance of the Japanese finance proposal?

Again, it's a question of who you know well enough to trust that their interpretation is likely to have some truth in it - not necessarily that it'll be 100% correct, because much that goes on here is impossible to read accurately at the time - but that it's worth listening to.

By now you'll have deduced that there are choices to be made. Should I listen to the AWG-KP negotiations or go to the AOSIS press conference? I need to catch up on the thinking among US policy wonks - but can I afford to do that now and risk missing something in the REDD side-meeting?

Do I actually have time to sit down and write the story now - and do I need to keep one ear on the news conference while I do so?

At their hairiest, plans change by the minute; the list of things you'd told your editor you were going to do at the start of the day is in its 19th revision by the time you're grabbing a hasty supper.

The knowledge that you're not going to get to everything and that you're almost certain to miss some important developments is uncomfortable for a journalist.

But at this meeting, it's inevitable: feel the size of the place, resign yourself, and do the best you can.

1427 CET: The rift that emerged yesterday within the developing countries bloc here grows more intriguing.

A document has fallen into the BBC's hands that comes from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group, which brings together 49 countries with per-capita national incomes below $750 per year.

It's aimed at laying out needs and opportunities for the LDCs in these negotiations, and was drawn up last month in Lesotho, which speaks for the grouping here.

Unsurprisingly, their highest priority is money for adaptation - to help nations such as Lesotho prepare for, and protect against, climate impacts.

The document argues that more money is needed from rich countries than is currently pledged, and wants public funds to be the primary source.

It's also demanding steeper emission cuts from the rich than are currently on the table.

So much could have been guessed at. But what's interesting, given the context of the divisions that emerged yesterday between small island states and LDCs on one hand and richer developing countries on the other, is the "differentiation" it seeks within the developing country bloc.

It argues that the LDCs have "special needs and priorities", and that their preferential position has been agreed in the UN climate convention: but "the larger group of developing countries (G77/China) tend to avoid differentiation among them".

Least developed nations will gain from allying themselves with small island states "in their efforts to differentiate themselves from larger group of developing countries..."

"Per-capita emission of LDCs is 12 times lower than that of other developing countries" and "mitigation commitments are needed from the largest emitters" in the developing world "for the protection of LDCs themselves..."

Dessima WilliamsAt the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) news conference this morning, Grenada's delegate Dessima Williams spoke of "unity" across the developing world.

I suggested that when the AOSIS position is that man-made climate change threatens their countries' very existence but Saudi Arabia (another G77 member) argues man-made climate change isn't happening, it doesn't look very much like unity.

Wider political considerations play powerfully into this process, and it's clear that all members of the developing world are still shooting first and foremost at the West - particularly those that, in Ambassador Williams' words, "bear the historical responsibility for climate change".

But unity comes in degrees; and it's clear that the poorest of the poor do want more from their powerful developing world brethren than they've seen so far - or than they've been prepared to demand before.


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