Thump, thump, thump. In the frantic last hours of U.N. climate talks in Scotland, a senior diplomat from Luxembourg came sprinting down a hallway inside the summit venue, his hair flying as he whooshed by clutching a sheaf of papers, only to vanish inside an office as abruptly as he appeared.
The final stretch of negotiations over what nearly 200 governments will do next about fossil fuels heating the Earth to disastrous levels was like that Friday: country delegations haggling to get as much of their stand as possible, ambitious or stingy, into the final deal that will emerge at the talks close.
U.S. diplomats mostly worked behind closed doors in the closing hours, with terse signs on the glass. In most other country offices – South Korea, Ivory Coast, Austria, and others – open doors showed rooms full of diplomats bent intently over their laptops, eyes fixed on their screen and fingers flying over the keyboard.
Chinese diplomats crowded into one of their offices — with multiple red Chinese flags draped on the walls outside -- stopped, laughed and took photos when a wayward robin hopped in among them, lost in the warren of temporary tents and event center.
There was muted excitement in the talks' closing hours in India’s delegation office. A vase with fresh pink lilies inside the office, while delegates sat cross legged on the floor, typing furiously with furrowed brows on their laptops. Endless cups of chai flowed in preparation for what would be a long night.
The past few days have been a flurry of bilateral meetings for the Indian minister, Bhupender Yadav, and his top officials.
Some of the delegations were returning to India Saturday where there are other challenges to tackle: not least among them New Delhi’s annual surge in air pollution that leaves its inhabitants gasping. But the ‘core team’, including the minister and top bureaucrats, will only fly out Sunday.
The Indian delegation for the past two weeks has been getting ‘home-cooked meals’ for dinner from a British restaurateur who runs curry houses across Britain. Indian flatbreads called chapatti with vegetarian curries are usually on the menu.
The fare at the conference’s cafes: egg mayonnaise sandwiches on soft white, chicken mayonnaise sandwiches on soft white, pork and pickle sandwiches, on soft white.
In two weeks, the words “I love this sandwich” have never been overheard.
In the final hours, there were hours after hour of negotiation over what in some ways seems the smallest of issues. “Urges” vs. ’requests” was one raging debate Friday.
In fact, it was all about one of the biggest issues imaginable: how firmly nations commit to solid new steps to stave off a level of temperature rise that promises to wipe out some of the nations represented in these talks.
“You know in common English, ‘urge’ is stronger,” said Kelley Kizzier, a former climate negotiator for the European Union now at the talks as a climate advocate.
But at the talks she learned that request is like a legal requirement, making it stronger.
At the Glasgow talks, how the “urge”-“request” cage match turns out in negotiations will determine whether countries have to ramp up their climate efforts again next year, or let them ride.
Another rule of the climate talks: “The bigger the room, the less important thing is that it’s going to happen,” Kizzier says. “The nitty-gritty negotiations happen” in tiny groups.
Alistair Grant contributed to this report.
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