What the dying climate negotiator has to tell the world

What the dying climate negotiator has to tell the world

Young climate activists in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt at COP27 on November 19, 2022 (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, LaPresse)

The Financial Times interviews Pete Betts, a trusted diplomat at UN climate conferences with a dangerous cancerous tumor

Pete Bates is not famous but he is part of an influential group of people who have worked in recent years in international negotiations to try to solve the greatest problem of our time, the climate crisis. A British diplomat who participated in the climate negotiations organized by the United Nations – the COPs – in roles of great responsibility in the delegations of the United Kingdom and the European Union and then as a consultant to the International Energy Agency (IEA): among other things, he was one of the people who worked on the historic Paris Agreement of 2015.

Bates today is 64 years old. He will certainly never know how his life’s work will turn out in the next few decades, and he most likely won’t even see the next climate conference because he has a serious brain tumor. When he was diagnosed, it was announced that he had a life expectancy of 15 months – it’s been 14 months since then. Bates spent much of that time writing a book about where we are with addressing climate change, the sense of conferences of the parties, which from the outside are often seen as difficult to understand and generally useless, and on the failure of international policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. . He also talked about these matters with a newspaper reporter financial times Pilita Clark who summed them up in a The last article.

For example, Bates said: “The decisions that will be taken in Beijing matter more than all other decisions,” explaining that China is the country on which the possibility of significantly reducing global emissions depends today, as “the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Bates goes on to say that the lack of international agreement on what interventions need to be undertaken by 2030 depends mainly on China, where the goal of keeping the increase in average global temperature below 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era has in fact disappeared. .

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“I am not saying this to point the finger at Beijing: developed countries outside Europe, especially the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, have done nothing for decades, when they could have done it in a much cheaper and manageable way. But now the real facts are this.”

Not exceeding the 1.5°C limit, which is getting closer and closer, would have been important so as not to greatly increase the probability of catastrophic events, such as floods and prolonged droughts at the regional level, and to avoid some return of “pointless”, i.e. crisis situations in climate and ecosystems which cannot be solved simply by lowering the temperature. “Many will try to take advantage of this moment to say we should give up on the 1.5°C limit,” again Bates commented: “But it’s just the same people who stopped us from getting there.”

Bates then added that even if we get past the 1.5C increase, we should not give up, but redouble our efforts.

On China, Bates said he is always stunned by the criticism he gets from some NGO leaders when he says the fate of the climate depends on China, but there are also good reasons why NGOs are “reluctant to put pressure on Beijing.” Doing so risks exacerbating tensions between China and the West, which are only getting worse. And he mocks those who claim that China is doing nothing, which is wrong. Also, NGOs working in China have a legitimate fear of suffering the consequences if they are too significant.”

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Bates believes that since most emissions today are produced by emerging economies, it is important to encourage rich countries to financially help poor countries switch to energy sources that do not produce greenhouse gases. Significant resources are needed to start the so-called ecological transition and “existing funds are grossly insufficient”.

Speaking about the diplomatic mechanisms behind international climate agreements, Bates said instead that for him it is always very frustrating to see how little most people understand what is being done in the COPs and above all what is not being done: “NGOs and the means The media didn’t” I don’t understand how things have changed after the Paris Agreement of 2015. Now the really important decisions are being taken months before the COP starts. It happens when countries announce their national commitments to reduce emissions, as envisioned in the Paris Agreement.

Regarding those promises, or more precisely Nationally determined contributions (NDC), in Italian for “nationally determined contributions,” the COP negotiators made a huge mistake in hindsight, Bates believes today:

When we reached this agreement, we believed that civil society would pay close attention to those promises, and therefore countries would feel pressure to set ambitious targets, and to adjust them if judged to be insufficient. We were wrong. For one thing, NDCs are not made in a timely manner. After that, no one criticizes the commitments, unless those commitments made by the developed countries. There should be a lot of attention to the failures of countries like China (…), it should be more clear that countries like Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil have reduced their commitment. Instead, more attention is paid to the words about fossil fuels used in the final documents of the Conference of the Parties, which do not oblige any country to do anything.

Bates and Clark also spoke about climate activism and praised the work of Greta Thunberg, who he believes has put climate change “back on the radar of politicians” when it was in danger of being forgotten. On the other hand, groups such as Extinction Rebellion appear to be ineffective at selecting beneficiaries for their campaigns. But I do agree that today’s youth have been wronged by my generation: I don’t think it’s the fault of the individual negotiators, but I take my responsibilities. I believe I have a wider range than others to make a difference. But collectively we failed, that’s right.”

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Bates also shared some anecdotes about specific politicians and negotiators that help make sense of what happens at COPs. Among other things, he compared the work of several British prime ministers at conferences and said that at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, Boris Johnson and his aides were mainly busy making headlines for the conference – already hosted by the UK – such a success. “Johnson blasted COP President Alok Sharma for shedding some tears after a last-minute intervention by India and China that weakened commitments to phase out coal as an energy source. He thought it would make the COP feel like a failure.”

Today Bates is working on her book about COPs and the climate, too, to accept that she is about to die: she hopes that it will show that her life has been worthwhile.

– Also read: Exactly what is being done at climate conferences

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