Climate: Fractures in the lobby?

Claudia Salerno Venezuela: oil-producing, but ultra-demanding on climate targets - a "petro-state of Mother Earth"?

One of the oddest things about the UN climate process is the way it virtually forces countries with diametrically opposed interests to huddle close and pretend to be friends.

EU nations, most of which officially want to press ahead with tying up a binding new global agreement, tend through reasons of history and expediency to stay close by the US, which does not.

But nowhere is the issue more starkly illustrated than in the G77/China bloc of developing countries, which - despite its name - now encompasses 131 countries.

I've written before about the wide range of development levels within the bloc.

But even more pertinent is the huge variation in their national interests, between those such as low-lying small islands that may literally cease to exist as nations as the sea level rises, and the oil-producing states of the Persian Gulf and Opec for whom the priority is to keep the oil and gas flowing.

Breaking ranks is a tough thing to do, because the G77/China bloc gives small countries a powerful presence and a powerful voice in talks in all sorts, notably trade.

Without strength in numbers, the argument goes, the Togos and Thailands and Trinidads of this world will be picked upon and bullied rotten by the exploiters of the Western world.

Some countries have nevertheless put their heads above the parapet and spoken out against the more powerful nations, including the Gulf lobby, that wield power within the bloc.

Oil in the wheels

Earlier this week, an e-mail dropped into my lap from Saudi Arabia's chief climate negotiator Mohammed Al-Sabban, a veteran of the process with a reputation for being a tough operator.

He was forwarding a message from Venezuela's chief climate negotiator Claudia Salerno, a glamorous diplomat whose most theatrical moment came on the last morning of the Copenhagen summit when she held up what appeared to be a bloody hand, saying she had cut it in protest against the Copenhagen Accord, which she called a "coup d'etat against the United Nations".

Dr Salerno's e-mail was alerting Mr Al-Sabban and others to an article on a Maldives news website, Minivan News, in which Maldives' deputy environment minister Mohamed Shareef is quoted as saying explicitly that "Saudi Arabia and Opec countries are blocking [the negotiations]".

Oil well in Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia has long demanded compensation for its "lost" oil revenue

In her e-mail, she describes the comment as "very surprising".

Mr Al-Sabban goes further.

"It is not unusual that some developed countries are abusing their relationship with small developing countries through bilateral 'give and take' to divide the G-77/China," he writes - a reference, in this case, to the UK.

"This has been their practice for long time, and they have never succeeded."

The Maldives is one of the small island states that has established close relations with developed nations - with President Nasheed speaking of the need for all countries, developed and developing, to curb their emissions.

Last year, he told BBC News that continuing to equate the need to develop with the right to emit carbon dioxide was "quite silly".

With support from the UK and others, the Maldives is embarking on a plan to become carbon neutral by 2020.

Saudi Arabia, by contrast, has long demanded compensation for "non-use" of fossil fuels. It argues that if a global climate deal goes through, it will not be able to sell some of the oil and gas in its possession - and should be compensated through "special response measures".

In the Maldives article, Dr Shareef goes on to say that he does not "believe for one minute that Saudi Arabia's concerns are genuine".

Concerns that are not genuine, he says, should be "thrown out" from the talks.

Mr Al-Sabban's response is intriguing.

"I am not worried about this comment, and whether the concerns of Saudi Arabia and other Opec countries with regards to the adverse impact of response measure is genuine.

"Saudi Arabia and other Opec countries will continue defending their national interests as everyone else is doing, and nothing will stop us from doing so."

Note the use of the term "national interests" - not "interests of the G77/China bloc", or even "interests of the developing world".

Bloc parties

This e-mail exchange illustrates a couple of important yet if under-reported issues undermining the UN negotiations.

Groups such as the G77/China are coalitions - sometimes, as here, encompassing a plethora of competing interests.

President Nasheed Maldives' President Nasheed is trying to promote the interests of "climate-vulnerable" countries

The Maldives feels it has much in common with "progressive" countries, including many from Europe as well as Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Colombia - and indeed talks to them through the Cartagena Dialogue process in an attempt to find ways forward.

But it can receive criticism from other developing countries when it does so.

Saudi Arabia actually has a lot of common ground with countries such as Russia and Canada - even the US, even China - that do not want to see swift progress towards a new treaty.

Yet they sit, officially, in different camps.

Officially, China and the US find themselves at loggerheads over the issue of monitoring and verifying emission cuts - but in another sense, the issue works for both of them, enabling each to blame the other for lack of progress.

Dr Salerno does not in this exchange elucidate Venezuelan concerns, but they are on public display; to keep the Earth's average temperature rise since pre-industrial terms below 1C, while continuing to export all the oil it can.

Bolivia, which regularly laments the problems climate change is bringing to poor indigenous communities, is also an oil producer; one observer wryly describes both as "petro-states of Mother Earth".

And whether the Saudi concerns over special response measures are genuine or not, the UN negotiations have no mechanism for throwing out issues that are put in spuriously, merely to disrupt and delay.

The latest set of talks, in Bonn last month, ground to a sticky halt.

Many parties officially blame the gulf between rich and poor nations.

But this little episode shows clearly that there are far more factors than that shovelling jam in the works.

Richard Black Article written by Richard Black Richard Black Former environment correspondent

Farewell and thanks for reading

This is my last entry for this page - I'm leaving the BBC to work, initially, on ocean conservation issues.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    In India, Norway, Canada, etc glaciers are expanding.Glaciers in the archipelago of Svalbard are the exception that proves the rule, but these sit in the warm current of the Gulf Stream.

    Abdusamatov once said "A global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.”

    The AGW Theory is dead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    #13 exiledportfan
    '...Climate change was proved in 1896, by a lab, doing a chemistry experiment you can repeat today.."

    In my experiments on the temperature dependent activation-energy of rotation about the N-N dihedral bond in azapeptides, the Arrhenius plot did not agree well with the ab-intio computer calculations. Can you please tell me who was right: Schroedinger or Arrhenius?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    @HW #39:

    Go straight for the ad hom, why don't you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    well at least they can all come to an agreement nobody likes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    #35. kelvin273

    "CO2 levels have increased by 35% in the atmosphere, and it's warming effects are well understood"

    Wrong and unproven on all counts! You really don't get the idea of scientific facts do you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Will there be an increase in the appearance of sink holes as climate change takes hold? Will big business have to create more sinking funds? Will some corporate buildings quite literally sink into the ground? What happens to the spaces left when oil is extracted from the ground? Is it now becoming a case of sink or swim? Do the UN climate delegates have team building exercises, making rafts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "No you are wrong and out of date there most certainly is a strong indication - didn't you bother to check your facts!"

    Yes, actually I did. There are always small variations in sunspot activity and solar output, but they are nothing like the Maunder Minimum. On the flip side, CO2 levels have increased by 35% in the atmosphere, and it's warming effects are well understood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.


    "There's no indication we are about to enter another Maunder Minimum"

    No you are wrong and out of date there most certainly is a strong indication - didn't you bother to check your facts!

    If you had been keeping up you would have noticed that the next 11 year sun spot cycle has not yet started, when it should have done so!


  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @kelvin273 #31:

    "Other than this cycle, solar output has been steady for the last two centuries"

    Then I'd suggest you put some of your warmista friends straight on this - the ones who are blaming the sun for the strong warming in the first half of the 20th century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Do you care? Long-distance swims & cubs: Cubs don't have much fat & thus can't be in the cold water for long periods. They are leaner than mom, not as buoyant (as adults) so they have more difficulty keeping their heads above water. Arctic is warming fast - greenhouse gases accumulate; melting of sea ice in the summer speeds effect. Sea ice volume is 47% lower than in 1979.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "No, you are wrong it is the Sun not CO2 - prepare for a Maunder Minimum!"

    I'm have a degree in astrophysics, thanks, which is why I know you are wrong. The sun's output has dipped very slightly in the last decade as part of it's normal 11 year cycle. Other than this cycle, solar output has been steady for the last two centuries. There's no indication we are about to enter another Maunder Minimum

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Marcus Stephen, President (tiny island nation) of Nauru, which is threatened with destruction from rising sea levels, pleaded with the Council to act, saying of climate change, “It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or terrorism, & it carries the potential to destabilize governments & ignite conflict. He urged immediate action.
    The UK is also an island, is it not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.


    "Once again the same deniers complaining - guys, global warming is real, it's happening, CO2 is the culprit, get over it."

    No, you are wrong it is the Sun not CO2 - prepare for a Maunder Minimum!

    This 400 character blog only leaves us all only with the continued exchange of short insults - a fact that the BBC knew full well and a condition that it deliberately chose to create!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I believe that involving Security Council in regular review of climate change will only compound the climate issue; also, it could lead to further increased politicisation of this issue & increased disagreements between countries, though I have little doubt that migration, refuge, food insecurity & poverty will create 'security concerns'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Meeting represented 1st time the SC has debated environmental issues in four years as Germany sought to gain approval for the first official UN statement explicitly linking climate change & global security. It came as the UN declared that the worst African famine in 20 years was impacting parts of Somalia, a scenario that scientists believe will become more frequent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Complication: UN Security Council acknowledges climate change may "aggravate certain existing threats to international peace & security". Can you believe! Speaking at meeting of UNSC convened by Germany (Chair), director of the UN Environment Program warned diplomats climate change meant natural disasters will "increase exponentially" posing an escalating threat to global security.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Current projections suggest global average temperatures will rise 4 degrees by 2060, while sea levels could rise by a metre by the end of this century. Economies are expected to face increasingly frequent extreme weather events such as the Somalian drought. Extreme conditions could affect food, displaced people & create international tension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Once again the same deniers complaining - guys, global warming is real, it's happening, CO2 is the culprit, get over it.

    As for oil, it's a no-brainer: we have a limited resource that will one day run out, and burning it is causing damage. Develop the new energy sources now while the energy is as cheap as it will ever be, then save the rest for plastics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @22 Sounds like you identified another "do as I say.." merchant. It's very easy to save the world if you are a billionaire like Branson. As for Green Taxes and Carbon credit, they are just seen as another money making ploy.
    Sorry if I sound disillusioned, but we've been almost bled dry and it's done nothing except make a few people a lot richer. Al Gore anyone?


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