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Copenhagen: A Theater of the Absurd

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Now that the Copenhagen climate change conference is over, the post-mortems are flooding print and online media outlets. The consensus among those who didn't participate in the conference seems to be that it was a failure. Failure is being blamed on President Obama, Congress, China, developing nations in general, and any number of other scapegoats.

But what surprised me the most wasn't that nothing of consequence was agreed to -- I fully expected that. I was surprised by the incredible volume of hypocritical, ludicrous, overstated, and simply bizarre statements that were released over the course of the conference. It was incredible! I think we owe it to the Copenhagen participants to recognize that, for these two weeks, they made the debate over health care seem reasonable by comparison. Here are some of my highlights:

African environmental and antipoverty campaigners and some delegates marched through the halls pressing for rich countries to pledge to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, ratcheting down from the 2.0-degree threshold that was set as a no-go zone by the world's dominant nations in recent agreements.
"Two degrees, suicide!" the protesters chanted.

Every international conference has its own version of bizarre protesters, and it usually doesn't take long to find them.

Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the group of 132 developing countries known as G77 plus China, spelt out exactly why the poor countries he represents were so incensed. "The text robs developing countries of their just and equitable and fair share of the atmospheric space. It tries to treat rich and poor countries as equal,"

The text is bad because it treats us equally! And this is unjust! How dare you treat us equally! Where's my medication? What does blue taste like? Why am I surrounded by purple rabbits?

A spokesman for Cafod, a development charity with close links to some of the poorest countries in the world, said: "This draft document reveals the backstage machinations of a biased host who, instead of acting as nonpartisan broker, is taking sides with the developed countries.

"The document should not even exist. There is a UN legal process which is the official negotiating text. The Danish text disrespects the solid, steady approach of the UN process."

Yes. How disrespectful of a draft paper. Also, the "solid, steady approach"? Really? I'd go with bizarre and ineffective, but OK.

If the Sudanese really want to save the children of the world, I'd recommend they start in Darfur.

[U.S. negotiator Todd Stern] also insisted that the US would pay money into an international fund to aid climate adaptation and the rollout of clean technologies, but would not be guilt tripped into paying "reparations".

A bold move by the US: moving from the "nothing's happening" aka "double middle finger" approach to the "we helped caused it but we're not guilty" aka "single middle finger" approach. At this pace, by next year we'll still be giving Tuvalu the finger, but while smiling.

But senior Indian negotiator Chandrashekar Dasgupta told Indian news agency PTI that India would not sign a deal that imposes binding targets.

"We are quite prepared through our national communications to report what we are doing, but that is for the purpose of information only," he said. "It is not subject to review, to verification, to re-negotiation, to dialogue or any such thing. It is a nationally determined voluntary target ... Nothing less, nothing more."

India, meanwhile, is sticking with the double middle finger approach.

EU leaders have agreed to pay 7.2bn euros (£6.5bn; $10.6bn) over the next three years to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

Particularly among some of the poorer African countries, there are demands for a lot more money considerably sooner, our correspondent says, and whether they accept these figures will depend on what else is on the table in Copenhagen.

You know an issue has crossed into a whole new level of crazy when countries are considering rejecting more than $10 billion in free money. In exchange for literally doing nothing.

"I think there's no doubt that China, when it says 40 to 45 percent reduction in energy intensity, is serious about that," said Ed Miliband, the British secretary of state for energy and climate change. The more challenging hurdle, he said, is finding a way that China can prove to the outside world that it is reducing its emissions by the amount it claims.

Um...what? If we really thought China was serious about reducing emissions, wouldn't we not care so much about verification? Common sense fail.

"They're going to wait until the last hour of the last day and just as the other side is walking out they'll say, 'Hey, come back.' Just as they do every day in every market in China," Ms. Finamore said. "That's why they're the best negotiators in the world."

Yes. I'm sure President Obama's pre-summit prep sessions often involve trying to draw analogies to buying fruit.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was among the first heads of state to touch down in the Danish capital, avoiding a travel ban imposed by Western nations because he was attending to a U.N. conference. Mugabe was to address the conference Wednesday.

What, was Kim Jong Il not available?

"A hundred billion is never enough," [Indian environment minister Jairam] Ramesh said, "but it's a small step."

Actually, where I'm from, a hundred billion dollars is pretty much always enough.

Obama returned to the White House and said "extremely difficult and complex negotiations" had been needed in Copenhagen.

Yes, it lays the foundation for years of international action. Specifically, the lack of any.

What a conference...