It’s not easy to explain plainly what I and other civil society reps actually do for all the long hours we spend at international environmental negotiations. After a week in Vienna, I am not entirely sure where all the time has gone. All I know is that, yet again, I didn’t see Vienna - the metro and the street our hotel was on aside … The world of global climate talks is a world of rumour chasing, coffee drinking, constant huddles and meetings – with country delegations, with other NGOs, with the rest of the Greenpeace crowd. Press releases need to be discussed, drafted and then often enough redrafted as the negotiations have already moved on. People who are not at the talks but in national Greenpeace offices need to be kept informed of what’s going on – and motivated to do something, if it happens to be their government that is acting up. There is a fair amount of sitting in big windowless rooms listening to boring speeches (one country that shall remain nameless this week had the cheek to give the same presentation for the third time in the course of recent negotiations!). The challenge is to wake up again when something really outrageous happens – and to then react quickly. Like yesterday, when Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and Russia suddenly suggested that increasing the globe’s mean temperature by, say, 4 degrees would be acceptable. Mistaking the climate negotiations for a “who can be the most cynical” contest, they insisted that the option of microwaving the world should be alive on the climate negotiating table. Silly me, and I thought these negotiations were about protecting the climate – not killing it.
4 degrees may sound abstract. But the impacts of such a temperature hike are not. A 4 degree warmer world would eliminate most of the glaciers in the Alpine region (Switzerland), virtually destroy the entire Alpine flora of hundreds of species (New Zealand), cause massive degradation of permafrost regions and a major increase in droughts in main agricultural regions (Russia), risk major dislocation and damage due to sea level rise (Japan) and deliver major water resource losses and destruction of the arctic ecosystem and species (Canada). All in all, it wouldn’t be pretty …
One way in which we react to the follies of our governments at these international negotiations is through producing our own newsletter – ECO. ECO has a proud tradition – ECO was first produced at the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972. It is produced overnight for delegates to read in the morning – and a remarkable number of them can be seen doing just. As ECO is for delegates, the language is not that of the tabloids. It’s techy, policy wonkish -but it is always also tongue in cheek … Editing ECO is a licence to be sarcastic and indulge in black humour.
ECO is hard work. The two nights this week that I helped with editing it, I got to bed at 2am. But ECO is also therapy. ECO means sitting around with like-minded people from around the world, trying to find witty ways in which to put across our outrage and anger – and our hopes for what the negotiations could deliver. Editing ECO is a team effort and one that involves a lot of laughs as well as beer (as the above picture of fellow editor Red Constantino shows …). Who knows , may be reading ECO helped. For at least governments made a small step forward in Vienna today.