The Prime Minister will not be going to the Durban Summit - should we be disappointed?
We need a new word - a word to describe an event that is utterly unsurprising and yet still hugely disappointing. You know the kind of thing: England getting dumped out of the World Cup, Wayne Rooney kicking someone, a government minister having dubious links with a suspicious neo-conservative lobby group.
And now we can add to the list David Cameron opting not to attend the UN Climate Change Summit in Durban next month.
In an under reported development, the Prime Minister last month responded to a parliamentary question from shadow climate change minister Luciana Berger by confirming that he would be firing off the summit.
Or to couch it in more parliamentary language: "The Government are committed to achieving an ambitious global deal to cut emissions consistent with limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. The UK will be represented at Durban by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker).
Like I say, Cameron's non-attendance is in no way surprising, yet still strangely disappointing.
However, as a world leader Cameron certainly won't be alone in opting to give Durban a swerve. Ever since the Copenhagen Summit lurched between tragedy and farce (remember President Obama being asked to hold a meeting with a junior Chinese official, while premier Wen Jiabao relaxed in his hotel room) Prime Ministers and Presidents have steered well clear of climate change negotiations from which they will return at best empty handed and at worst humiliated.
And yet the absence of the world's most powerful leaders from the Cancun Summit last year and Durban this year still feels like a missed opportunity.
Firstly, having a handful of attendees who, in David Miliband's memorable turn of phrase in support of Tony Blair's bid to become European President, could "stop the traffic" significantly raises the profile of the talks and more importantly the issues they are trying to address.
Secondly, while there is a school of thought that says having presidents and prime ministers in attendance at complex negotiations is unnecessarily disruptive there does come a point at which the talks reach a level that is above the pay grade of the diplomats and ministers in attendance. We are talking about a major restructuring of the global economy here and as a result the world's leaders really should be the ones driving the final negotiations. They may promise to discuss climate change at G20 Summits, but they are little more than a talking shop whereas in contrast the climate change negotiations offer at the least the hope of a tangible agreement. Just because the Copenhagen Summit failed does not mean world leaders should swear off these meetings for a generation.
Thirdly, if the UN's top climate change official Christiana Figueres is to be believed there are reasons to believe Durban will deliver some real progress. Speaking last week, Christiana Figueres said she expected the summit to approve plans for a green fund, approve rules for measuring, reporting and verifying emissions (previously a major sticking point), and approve proposals for a technology transfer mechanism, a climate adaptation initiative, and the continuation of the carbon market. Hope also remains that some form of compromise on the vexed topic of the Kyoto Protocol could start to take shape.
This may be overly optimistic, but there are reasons to hope that the summit will continue the steady progress delivered in Cancun, potentially paving the way for a more binding agreement next year. Optimistic perhaps, but not inconceivable.
It is too late now to convince Cameron and his fellow world leaders to book their flights for Durban, but green businesses and NGOs should start pushing now for the year of the 20th anniversary of the first Rio Earth Summit to also be the year that the men and women with the power to deliver the low carbon economy swallow their fears about bad publicity and reengage with these all important negotiations.
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