A VAST TENT FULL OF SELF SAT­IS­FIED WAF­FLERS

Daily Mail - - Front Page - by Robert Hard­man

AT THE GREAT GREEN JUN­KET IN PARIS

THIS wasn’t just a his­toric mo­ment, we were told. This was the defin­ing mo­ment in the story of mankind. D-Day? Water­loo? The Fall of Rome? Mere foot­notes com­pared to this week’s £145 mil­lion as­sem­bly of world lead­ers in a gi­ant tent out­side Paris.

‘A bea­con of hope for the world,’ de­clared Chris­tiana Figueres of the United Na­tions, in­vok­ing Win­ston Churchill as she wel­comed 150 world lead­ers to the COP21 cli­mate change sum­mit on which, we are told, the fu­ture of our planet de­pends. ‘Never has a re­spon­si­bil­ity so great been in the hands of so few,’ she went on.

Well, that’s the Bat­tle of Bri­tain put in its proper place, then.

For hour af­ter hour yes­ter­day and on in to last night, world lead­ers great and small – plus the Prince of Wales – as­sured us that we are, in­deed, on the thresh­old of his­tory here. So many have turned up – a record 150 heads of state and govern­ment – that they were all lim­ited to three-minute speeches yes­ter­day (with­out much suc­cess, it must be said).

Even then, there was not enough time or space so they were split into two groups and in­vited to speak in two sep­a­rate con­fer­ence cham­bers at the same time. As a re­sult, one half of the sum­mit wasn’t lis­ten­ing to the other. Not that it mat­tered much. We got the gist – and no one seemed very in­ter­ested in what any­one else was say­ing any­way.

One af­ter the other, they trooped up to a mi­cro­phone to say their piece and, hope­fully, make the tele­vi­sion news back home. Here was global pol­i­tics ad­min­is­tered like the Euro­vi­sion song con­test. It was just as well no one was vot­ing. Boy, were there some waf­flers.

None of them ac­tu­ally needed to be here. The or­gan­is­ers had in­vited del­e­ga­tions to send sub­mis­sions by email. But no one – ex­cept for the world’s top pari­ahs, Pres­i­dent As­sad of Syria sand North Korea’s Kim Jongun – wanted to miss this show.

Of­fi­cially known as the COP 21 Con­fer­ence (short­hand for the 21st Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties to the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change), it could just as well have been called ‘ME 2’.

Trapped in­side this vast, for­ti­fied can­vas palace of self-con­grat­u­la­tion, with a stag­ger­ing 40,000 peo­ple preach­ing to the con­verted – politi­cians, bag- car­ri­ers, lob­by­ists, pres­sure groups and ‘ac­tivists’ (in­clud­ing a posse of women who have flown all the way from Aus­tralia dressed as guardian an­gels) – it is easy to feel that this may in­deed be the big­gest thing since the Res­ur­rec­tion.

BUT then comes a point when a nag­ging doubt sets in. Per­haps it was the mo­ment Zim­babwe’s despot, Robert Mu­gabe, shuf­fled on to the stage yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, blamed ev­ery­thing on the im­pe­ri­al­ist na­tions and shuf­fled off again to a round of ap­plause.

Per­haps it was the mo­ment one of the world’s great­est pol­luters de­cided to part com­pany with the mes­sianic mood.

‘This is not the fin­ish­ing line,’ de­clared Pres­i­dent Xi of China cau­tiously, ‘but a new start­ing point’. Oops. It doesn’t sound like he’s feel­ing the hand of his­tory on his shoul­der.

Per­haps it was the mem­ory of the last ‘ great­est mo­ment in his­tory’ when all this lot turned up to save the world in Copen­hagen in 2009 and noth­ing hap­pened.

This time, we are as­sured, things are dif­fer­ent. Ahead of this sum­mit, we kept be­ing re­minded by glee­ful speak­ers, nearly all the world’s na­tions (in­clud­ing all the main ones) have drawn up pro­pos­als to cut their car­bon emis­sions in the fu­ture. The only trou­ble is that none of that is legally bind­ing on any coun­try ex­cept one. Ours.

While Bri­tain has locked it­self in to slash­ing emis­sions by a whop­ping 80 per cent come 2050, the rest of the world is not obliged to do any­thing of the sort.

China’s strat­egy for slash­ing emis­sions, for ex­am­ple, is to keep on pump­ing out in­creas­ing amounts of pol­lu­tion for the next 15 years and then slow down af­ter that. Maybe.

Whether or not this sum­mit does live up to its am­bi­tious billing, it is cer­tainly a very im­pres­sive space here at Le Bour­get ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre on the north­ern edge of Paris. A gi­ant mar­quee links a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tion halls, each the size of an Olympic venue, and two con­fer­ence cham­bers. Each can ac­com­mo­date 190 na­tional del­e­ga­tions plus thou­sands of ob­servers.

It was all a bit of a sham­bles ahead of yes­ter­day’s open­ing cer­e­mony. The del­e­ga­tions had been seated in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der, as they are at the United Na­tions, but the hosts had done the seat­ing plan in French. So the UK and the US, who sit next to each other at the UN, went in search of the let­ter U.

But the Amer­i­cans had been placed un­der E for Etats-Unis and the Brits found them­selves un­der R for Roy­aume-Uni – be­tween Ro­ma­nia and Rwanda. As ever, Afghanistan en­joyed seat 1A. The open­ing cer­e­mony fea­tured speeches from the or­gan­is­ers and also one from the Prince of Wales. He had re­ceived a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion from the French pres­i­dent in recog­ni­tion of his long de­vo­tion to the sub­ject of cli­mate change.

Like most speak­ers, the prince pref­aced his re­marks with words of con­do­lence – in French – for the vic­tims of the re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks. He also added that he was ‘enorme­ment touché’ to be on the stage.

Rev­ert­ing to English, he went on: ‘ In dam­ag­ing our cli­mate we be­come the ar­chi­tects of our own de­struc­tion. While the planet can sur­vive the scorch­ing of the earth and the ris­ing of the wa­ters, the hu­man race can­not. The ab­surd thing is that we know ex­actly what needs to be done.’ De­plor­ing mankind’s mis­treat­ment of na­ture, he added: ‘If the planet were a pa­tient, we would have treated her long ago. You, ladies and gen­tle­men, have the power to put her on life sup­port.’

The speech­mak­ing was re­morse­less. Gloss­ing over the fact that America never even signed up to en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­ti­cles of faith like the Ky­oto Treaty, Barack Obama deftly painted this sum­mit as a ri­poste to ter­ror­ism.

‘We have come to Paris to show our re­solve,’ he said, ‘to pro­tect our peo­ple, and to up­hold the val­ues that keep us strong and keep us free.’

As for cli­mate change, there was the tini­est hint of mea culpa. ‘I’ve come here per­son­ally to say the United States not only recog­nises the prob­lem but is com­mit­ted to do some­thing about it,’ he said.

Mr Obama’s pres­ence meant that most of the sum­mit was ei­ther in the Seine sum­mit cham­ber or watch­ing it in satel­lite view­ing rooms and not watch­ing par­al­lel pro­ceed­ings next door in the Loire con­fer­ence room.

HERE they would have found Zim­babwe’s Robert Mu­gabe, ram­bling and mud­dled but as fiery as ever, as he at­tacked ‘de­vel­oped coun­tries’ for not do­ing more to help poorer na­tions and seek­ing to ‘bur­den us with clear­ing up the mess they them­selves have cre­ated’.

Some will have been sur­prised to see him, given that he is still tech­ni­cally banned from the Euro­pean Union for as­sorted hu­man rights abuses. The last time he sneaked into Europe for a sum­mit in Paris, I was among a group of Bri­tish jour­nal­ists evicted from his ho­tel for re­port­ing on an eye-wa­ter­ing shop­ping spree by his wife, Grace. I hope she is mak­ing the most of the re­tail op­por­tu­ni­ties while her hus­band is busy sav­ing the world.

Given that most lead­ers brazenly ig­nored the three-minute rule, the waf­fling was still go­ing strong as thoughts turned to din­ner. Hats off to two world lead­ers who did keep to their al­lot­ted time: David Cameron and Vladimir Putin.

Away from the con­fer­ence cham­ber, there are plenty of din­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, of course. The hosts have sev­eral jumbo restau­rants here and heav­ily dis­counted menus. You won’t find many joints in town do­ing a con­fit de ca­nard like the one the cli­mate change gang can en­joy for £8.

Along­side all the trough­ing are some ex­trav­a­gant na­tional pavil­ions. It could be the Ideal Home Ex­hi­bi­tion in some quar­ters.

They may be among the world’s worst pol­luters but the In­di­ans have the snazz­i­est stand at this sum­mit. It in­cludes an ex­hi­bi­tion of In­dia’s space pro­gramme (very green, I’m sure) and a foun­tain which spells out neon-lit words in wa­ter jets. In­done­sia has golden um­brel­las invit­ing del­e­gates in­side a sump­tu­ous suite.

Bri­tain, it must be said, has noth­ing more than a chip­board cup­board next to the ‘Med­i­ta­tion’ and ‘Re­lax­ation’ rooms.

The lat­ter is full of so­fas and comfy chairs – the per­fect spot for a kip when you’ve had enough of lis­ten­ing to a prime min­is­ter you’ve never heard of from a coun­try you’d be hard pushed to find on the map telling you that he is go­ing to save the world.

In­vi­ta­tion: Prince Charles greeted by French ecol­ogy min­is­ter Se­go­lene Royal yes­ter­day

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