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Legal expert says draft climate proposal not unusual as ‘leaked text’ sparks anger

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Legal expert says draft climate proposal not unusual as ‘leaked text’ sparks anger

9th December 2009

By: Christy van der Merwe

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Various news reports from the second day of the 192-nation climate change conference of the parties (COP) taking place in Copenhagen were focused on the “leaked Danish texts”, which were made public by the UK’s Guardian website on Tuesday.

The text was a draft proposal for the final political agreement that should be signed by national leaders, and was said to cause a rift between developed and developing nations at the conference, with the Group of 77 (G77) and China chairperson Lumumba Di-Aping, quoted as saying that “the text robs developing countries of their just and equitable and fair share of the atmospheric space. It tries to treat rich and poor countries as equal.”

However, those familiar with the negotiating process have claimed that this has been blown out of proportion, and draft texts doing the rounds at this kind of negotiating forum was not an abnormal occurrence. It was unlikely that any participants would enter into negotiations without some kind of draft proposal.

“It's not unusual that a number of draft texts are circulated at the COP, and even before. As far as I know, there are also: a developing country text; a G77 text; and a text named BASIC - Brazil, India, China, South Africa - that are doing the rounds. I think the Guardian journalist was breaking a story for the sake of the story,” Imbewu Sustainability Legal Specialists associate Andrew Gilder tells Engineering News Online.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) stated that the initial reaction to the leaked text by many parties and observers at the COP was excitement as rumours were finally confirmed. “Many rushed to download or print out the document and study it. Some developing country delegates seemed angry at what they characterized as a ‘secretive’ and ’nontransparent’ initiative,” said the ENB.

“However, most veterans and observers close to the process were more interested in knowing ‘which version’ of the text was leaked, and whether it was in fact the document they had already seen in November.”

The ENB report quoted a veteran developing country negotiator as saying that there were ”some changes, but nothing earth-shattering” in the so-called “new” leaked version.

The furore over the “leaked texts” appeared to have grabbed the attention of the media, as had what is now known as “climategate”. The climate change scientific community was tested by ‘climategate’, after a computer server at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia was hacked and emails from the system disseminated.

Climate change sceptics have stated that the emails show collusion by climate scientists to withhold scientific information.

At the opening of the COP, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chairperson Dr Rajendra Pachauri dismissed the climategate scandal, stating that “the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report [the science upon which actions to be taken by governments was based], is the collective effort of almost 4 000 of the world’s best specialists working tirelessly over five years. The uniqueness of this mammoth exercise lies in the fact that all the governments of the world – your own governments – approved of this report, and therefore have full ownership of its contents.”

British climate change economist Nicholas Stern also warned that those who doubt the science of global warming were confused, and said their scepticism should not derail efforts to strike a climate deal in Copenhagen.

While hopes for a legally binding deal faded, and in spite of the aforementioned controversies, negotiators continued to work towards reaching agreement at Copenhagen.

Many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) stuck to their guns and continued to push for the best outcome at Copenhagen.

“We are still saying that we can get to a legally binding agreement. Yes, there will be dirty tactics … but there is also a lot of solid work going on,” says World Wildlife Fund South Africa trade and investment adviser Peet du Plooy.

He adds that the scepticism over the science behind climate change is akin to HIV/Aids denialism.

“Civil society around the world must take hard hitting action to push their governments for an equitable and binding agreement,” adds NGO Earthlife Africa.

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