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Diplomatic tip-toeing gives way to strong words at Bonn

Women wait for transport to get over a flooded river in Bangladesh. Qumrul Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, said at Bonn that the world needs, 'A legally binding, fair and ambitious treaty - or else people will suffer.' / Espen Rasmussen - Panos Pictures

The Bonn climate change talks have so far been marked by a tip-toeing diplomacy as countries attempt to re-build trust and dilute the bitterness caused by the failure of the Copenhagen summit. So the remarks of Qumrul Chowdhury, the principal negotiator for the G77 and lead coordinator for the least developed countries block (LDC), were all the more striking.

When asked what would happen if the climate change talks drag on past Bonn and the planned summit in Cancun, Mexico, in November, he said: “It will be tragic, a holocaust… I warn all the world that it will be at the expense of one billion people. We can’t afford to lose the battle.”

Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, was very clear about what was needed, “A legally binding, fair and ambitious treaty – or else our people will suffer”. He added that without mitigation “we simply cannot adapt – especially the front line states like the LDCs”.

Chowdhury was speaking alongside fellow negotiators from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the European Commission, China, India and Brazil at a media forum held on Wednesday.

Organized by the Climate Change Media Partnership, the forum was a chance for journalists from Africa, Asia and South America to quiz top negotiators from opposing sides.

What was striking was that despite the fact that the negotiators from China, India and Brazil had all signed the last-minute Copenhagen Accord, they were keen to distance themselves from it.

“The Convention [the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change produced at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992] offers us the only way out,” said ambassador Qingtai Yu, China’s special representative at the talks. He urged negotiators to “go back to basics and familiarize themselves with [the Convention’s] principles”.

The Indian negotiator, J M Mauskar, who is a joint secretary in India’s Ministry of Environment, went further. “We are not here to negotiate a new regime or agreement,” he said. “The solutions are in the Convention and we don’t want to tinker with the Convention”.

The vice-chair of AOSIS, Ambassador Collin Beck from the Solomon Islands, agreed. “We need a restoration of faith… we had gone away from the spirit of the Convention,” he said.

Sergio Serra, the Brazilian ambassador for climate change, pointed out that the meeting in Bonn was essentially “an exercise in building trust” but added: “We need something concrete by Cancun”.

The only member of the forum defending the Accord was Laurence Graff, a negotiator for European Commission, who pointed out that limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, was a key part of the declaration. She also added that the developed world was “completely on track” when it came to their commitment of 30 billion US dollars promised to the developing countries for combating the impacts of climate change in Copenhagen.

Rina Saeed Khan is a Lahore based freelance journalist. She is in Bonn as a Climate Change Media Partnership fellow. The CCMP is an initiative of the Panos Network, Internews and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The opinions in this blog feature do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panos London.

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