Farewell to Yvo de BoerNo comments
As the Bonn climate change talks wrapped up on 11 June, the hallways remained subdued. Negotiators and NGO activists spoke about the “re-building of trust” after the bitterness of Copenhagen and the “lowering of expectations” that had followed. No wonder then that outgoing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer told our group of developing country journalists gathered by the CCMP that the process of setting adequate targets for greenhouse gas reductions would take much longer than anticipated, echoing his earlier estimate that “it will not happen in the next decade. But it will happen… ”
De Boer, who stepped down officially at a special plenary session held during the Bonn talks, reiterated in his farewell speech: “We know that the current pledges from industrialized countries are not sufficient to bring us into the 25-40% range [of emissions cuts] that the IPCC projects in its most ambitious scenario, but we are on a longer journey”.
Those who have worked with him in the UN secretariat told us over dinner that Yvo is in fact very upset about the way things turned out in Copenhagen. From 2006 to 2010 he had worked tirelessly to bring North and South together, aiming to “seal a deal” in Copenhagen as mandated by the Bali Action Plan. In the process, he earned the ire of both sides and became the de facto spokesman for the process (although his real job is to run the secretariat!). He famously burst into tears in Bali after spending two exhausting weeks watching countries squabble over carbon emissions.
In Copenhagen, I watched him wearily walk to the back entrance of the Bella Center, standing alone in the cold while he waited for his car, just before President Obama announced the last minute “Copenhagen Accord” to salvage some sort of agreement. De Boer thanked the doorman and drove off, only to return the next day to give a press conference in which he tried to put a positive spin on what has been subsequently described as the “collective failure of world leaders to rise to the occasion”. He referred to it in his farewell speech, saying: “To use World Cup imagery: we got a yellow card in Copenhagen and the referee’s hand will edge towards the red one if we fail to deliver in Cancun and beyond”.
By now a consummate diplomat, de Boer did not let his frustration show at the farewell speech in Bonn as he thanked the secretariat staff and the delegates who gave him a standing ovation. His successor, Christiana Figueres from Costa Rica, gave him a pair of sturdy shoes as a farewell gift, eliciting laughs as she explained how difficult it would be for her to fill his much larger ones. On 8 July she will take the helm of the UNFCCC and will begin one of the trickiest jobs in the world – she has already described it as “thankless”.
When she later met our group she talked about “the miracle of negotiations” and the need for “gradual incremental efforts”. We found out afterwards that she had earlier told a group of journalists from the developed world that she is unlikely to see an all-encompassing deal. “I do not believe we will ever have a final agreement on climate change, certainly not in my lifetime”, Figueres had told them. She was clearly advised not to repeat those words to our group!
“What a pity she did not say this to us”, said one of the CCMP journalists. True, it would have made our reporting more honest and accurate at least, but one can understand why she was told not to repeat it – the developing world, especially the front line states who are already suffering, would like to see climate action taken as soon as possible and most certainly in their own lifetimes!
According to analyst Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development, “due to the global recession and the bad press received by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the general mood of the public (towards climate change) is already quite negative”. He thinks it may take until perhaps the IPCC’s fifth assessment report comes out in 2014 to recover the momentum needed to take us forward.