Will there be fear-free climate talks?

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
Condolences to the French and the families that lost 129 of their loved ones to the barbarism of terror on November 13 in Paris, the city that will host up to 40 000 civilian delegates for this year’s two-week crunch Global Climate Change Summit beginning November 30. Despite the threat of terror, France will go ahead to host the conference as planned, said French Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Laurent Delahousse, last Thursday, by telephone.

Only two side events have suffered as casualties; climate protests marches that were scheduled for the streets of Paris on November 29 and December 12. The French authorities concluded the demonstrations were a security threat that would be difficult to control. Events planned in closed areas and places that can be easily secured will be allowed.

In the face of terror, support is coming from multiple quarters within and outside the European Union, including Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

With backing from the world’s highest ranking climate diplomat, Mr Delahousse claimed “security measures will be propped up” and that “there will be maximum security” at the Le Bourget conference centre in Paris, where negotiators are due to agree a new global climate accord.

Hypothetically and realistically speaking, should such attacks have taken place in an African country like Zimbabwe ahead of a major global summit, world “sympathy” would have been drawn against Harare as continued host for obvious reasons.

But then again, it is “us” against “them”, even as the multi-lateral climate system has evidently shown over many years, Africa on the one side and the West on the other.

France has in recent years emerged as a hotbed of calculated deadly terror attacks, but the French are most desperate to proceed as conference host, as an act of defiance; denying the terrorists any sense of victory, and to deflate that fleeting victory bubble; and to show terrorists around the world they will not break the French spirit, not least distract world progress on climate change, or so it seems.

In a way, the successful hosting of the Paris climate change conference will likely leave the French with a sense of victory against terrorism, a feeling that they desperately need to soothe the bruised egos of their failed intelligence services.

That is understandable. But the size of the Paris conference gathering — estimated at between 20 000 and 40 000 — is a huge security risk for a country still smarting from surprise terror attacks targeting public spaces, the kind of space as offered by the climate talks.

Reports indicate French intelligence have long been anticipating an attack on Paris since the massacre at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January, but did not know when or where this would happen until the day of the killings.

Terror groups tend to thrive on gatherings that draw huge crowds such as the Paris talks, either to strike at the conference proper, or use the concentration of security details at similar conferences, as decoy for attacking other public spaces where security is perceived weak.

Fear struck, negotiators not stupid
Now, with the unforeseen threat of terror fresh on the mind, it remains to be seen just how much impact have the attacks played on the psychology of the negotiators at Paris, most of whom are of civilian background.

Will they be able to negotiate in a free atmosphere, one that allows for free-flowing discussions unhindered by lingering fear of impending unannounced attacks? Really, how can one negotiate with one ear to the table and the other on the look out for terror?

Harare psychologist, Shylock Muyengwa, says the fear factor is real, and could distract thought processes, particularly in a complex and demanding system like the climate change negotiations.

“The impacts of terror are far ranging but in this context (Paris context) we are looking primarily at fear,” said Muyengwa, by email. “Will delegates come as anticipated and if not, will this not affect panels and side events? We know fear affects decision making heuristics (problem solving techniques) in several ways but more importantly reduce your ability to focus on complex issues.”

The French Ambassador, Mr Delahousse, would have none of that. “Negotiators are not stupid people,” he charged. “They are not fearful people,” continued Mr Delahousse. “They are people who have accommodated and participated in negotiations all around the world, in countries where security levels are much lower than in France.

“All negotiators perfectly know they have more chances of dying by taking a bus or slipping in the bath tub than being the victim of a terror attack.” Of all cities to have hosted the UNFCCC’s yearly climate summits, beginning with the first Conference of the Parties (COP) in Berlin in 1995, Paris arguably represents the highest real terror security threat in recent memory.

In the order that the COP meetings have been held between 1996 to 2014, the following cities hosted: Geneva (Switzerland), Kyoto (Japan), Buenos Aires (Argetina), Bonn (Germany), The Hague (Netherlands), Marrakesh (Morocco), New Dehli (India), Milan (Italy) Buenos Aires (Argentina), Montreal (Canada), Nairobi (Kenya), Bali (Indonesia) Poznan (Poland), Copenhagen (Denmark), Cancun (Mexico), Durban (South Africa), Doha (Qatar), Warsaw (Poland) and Lima (Peru).

Apart from New Dehli, Nairobi and Bali, all the previous COP host cities have been fairly free, if at all, of terrorists attacks.

In Mexico and Argentina, one should concern more with drug gangs as it were for terror groups. It is both doubtful and improbable a high security risk country will get the opportunity to host the meetings twice as has done Argentina.

The security levels in all previous host cities ranks differently; never absolute, but none has starred terror in the eye as much as Paris has done, with just a fortnight ahead of negotiations. Nairobi experiences terror incidences frequently, but that did not happen in the year of the COP, nay, with just two weeks remaining before the conference.

Cannot sleep on job
It will be foolhardy to ‘misunderstand’ the dynamics of power within the multi-lateral climate change negotiation system. The politics of climate change under the global climate talks may on the surface appear silent, but are effectively forceful.

On account of this, developed country parties that failed to fulfil their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol brazenly abdicated responsibility, arm-twisting poorer nations in the developing world to agree to a new system that forces all to reduce emissions.

With this, countries like Zimbabwe, whose share of greenhouse gas emissions is just 0,05 percent of the global total, are now forced to commit. Nearly 90 percent of the 195 countries that are party to the UNFCCC have since submitted plans on how they intend to cut emissions between now and 2030.

These climate plans are the building blocks for a new universal climate treaty due to be concluded in the two weeks starting November 30 in the terror-struck French capital.

As part of Zimbabwe’s expert team of climate negotiators, Veronica Gundu, deputy climate change director in the Environment, Water and Climate Ministry, said the attacks were shocking, but cannot afford to sleep on the job at this crucial time in climate change history.

“The event (Paris attacks) shocked us and we least anticipated that. The timing was also bad since we are expecting high level (discussions),” said Ms Gundu, who has participated at several COP meetings in the past.

“However, the UNFCCC has indicated that the meeting is going on hence we assume they have put the security measures in place. We will also take due diligence, monitoring the event. “The French government has also not issued an alert message on any potential danger. In terms of the thought process, we cannot afford to be affected because we should come out with the best for Zimbabwe and Africa.”

Nearly 120 world leaders are expected to attend the opening day of the Paris summit. The hope now is that Paris buries the mental scars of terror to deliver a just and equitable deal, a deal that addresses the pressing climate change issues of our day, and those of the future.

God is faithful.

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