Jonathan Bradley: I guess first up, how was the Earth Hour event you went to Wednesday night? How was Secretary-General Ban [Ki-Moon]?
Robert Hill: It was fantastic, except Secretary-General Ban couldn’t go at the last minute.
RH: So he was represented by Vijay Nambiar, who’s his Chief of Staff. Bearing in mind [Earth Hour] started in Australia, and it’s now a large global business. It was really extraordinary. So – a good idea. I was talking to the organizers afterwards, who had the original idea in Australia, and they confessed when they started doing this thing they were very nervous, and now it’s built up a momentum that’s turned it into something of global significance.
JB: They have them all over the world now, it seems. I’m interested that in Copenhagen it seems to be very much a cultural event as well as a purely political one.
RH: The whole of… what’s happening here?
JB: Yes, it seems there’s a lot of cultural stuff happening in conjunction with the negotiations.
JB: Do you think that all these events do have an impact on the actual negotiations, or are they entirely a sideshow, and the real work happens inside the meeting, and the negotiators are unaffected by what’s happening outside?
RH: I do think that they affect the dynamics, and it’s not just what’s happening in Copenhagen right now, but it’s what’s happening all around the world. I go back to the meeting that the Secretary-General had in September in New York too, there was an enormous amount of supporters’ community activity. And I think it does reinforce to governments perhaps more than the individual negotiators that are focused on more finite challenges. But to governments, there is a broad-based constituency, that this is not a narrowly-based issues, that people really do see this as critical to their lives, and to the future of their children and grandchildren. I do think it does affect the overall dynamic, yes I do. It’s one of the reasons, I think, [for the] significant changes [that have] occurred in recent years. I think one of our earlier discussions I mentioned the fact that none of this was occurring a decade or so ago, and I think it’s the energy that’s been provided by civil society that’s significantly driven the process.
JB: Definitely. Turning to one of our previous conversations, last time we spoke, on Wednesday, you said you were optimistic, but you said we’d see how things had changed by Friday. How are you feeling now?
RH: Well we’re in the last few hours now, the final strait, and it is proving to be very difficult I have to say.
JB: More difficult than you expected?
RH: I think I probably said also before that nothing is agreed until everything’s agreed, and everyone holds their final bid until the last possible moment. But we’re almost past that point. I think the bids are pretty much on the table, and it’s now down to a hard slog to get the mass of states on side. Also we said on the last occasion they were back-pedalling a bit to an accord rather than an agreement. I’ve seen some drafts tonight, and it’s hard to know whether they’re the last draft. And, they’re not too bad, but they’re clearly having trouble getting everyone on side. So I think it’s going to be a long, hard slog tonight. I said to the people that I’m working with you might as well go off and have dinner, because I don’t think anything’s going to happen for some few hours. Later tonight I think the picture will become clearer. I still think they will reach what was going to be an agreement and they’re now calling an accord. And I think it’ll have some significant targets by developed countries and significant measures by developing. It seems that they will include forest in it, which is a good move forward. They’re talking about 30 billion dollars in a short term fund, leading up to a 100 billion a year for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. These are significant outcomes. The outcome may not, for some people, match the science and therefore be inadequate to achieve the goal, but it still tonight could add up to a significant step forward.
JB: What’s the difference between an accord and an agreement?
RH: I think that what they’re saying is if it’s an accord, it’s not an agreement in COP language, but I suspect what they’re also saying is that you can have an accord between a number of states that’s less than an agreement of the whole. If that’s what they’re hinting at, I think that would be a disappointment, and I’d almost prefer to have a lesser agreement that everyone signs on to than a better agreement that some sign on to, because this is a global problem, and it’s only going to be effectively addressed by a concerted global response. And I think it’s important to keep everyone in the tent.
JB: I’ve been reading that there’s talk about extending the conference until Sunday even. Is this looking likely or is everyone going to work deep into the night until it’s all done?
RH: I don’t think it will because leaders’ planes are all booked and the engines are running now, and it’s not much point going on after they’ve left. I think it’s a tactic to try and get them to realise the deadline is nigh.
JB: Right, kind of getting them to negotiate…
RH: I think it will conclude late tonight, early hours of tomorrow morning.
JB: And when it concludes, how much will remain for Mexico City?
RH: I think a lot will remain. And it was probably naïve of us to think that wouldn’t be the case. Well, actually, I guess most of us always thought there’d be a lot of left over business; there’s maybe more left over business than some people would like to see. But it is such an enormous issue, and so complex, having to engage 192 nation-states that I think we sometimes underestimate… The fact is, this is going to be an issue that never ends. Every year there’s going to be more work to be done, in terms of the international negotiations as well as the work that’s done on the ground to implement them.
JB: And yet, because of the cultural and civil society aspects that we spoke about before, it seems that it’s not going to go away, that leaders will have to keep coming back to it. Is that accurate to say?
RH: Yeah, I think it’s going to be with us forever, basically. And I suspect it will grow evermore complex and larger. I’ve been thinking about the current growth in size would lead us in 10 years time – the next really big meeting, if we say these things are about once every 10 years – to around about 400,000 delegates. So if you started with about 2000 in Kyoto and about 40,000 here, what’s the situation in 10 years? It’s unprecedented in terms of global negotiations, and it’s really become, in some ways, too big to manage. And I think one of the challenges after this meeting is going to have to be to look at other mechanisms to break it down into workable parcels, which is going to be quite challenging in itself.
JB: How do you create a global agreement without getting the entire globe into the same room?
RH: Well you don’t, do you? But you could be doing bits of it. You could justify a very major meeting on bio-sequestration in itself. And nobody wants to do it because it just means more meetings. But if the meetings are getting to a scale that is unmanageable, then you’ve got to start looking at other options.
JB: So Barack Obama arrived in Copenhagen this morning, and he gave a highly covered speech. Did you see this speech?
RH: No, I didn’t see the speech. I’ve heard a bit about it, but I didn’t see it.
JB: Has it had a lot of impact on the negotiations?
RH: I don’t think these speeches are having a big effect at the moment. They’re giving heads of government the opportunity to put on the record their vision and their commitments, but I don’t think they’re really affecting the negotiation. It’s really down to the nuts and bolts now: How much money are you prepared to put on the table? What targets are you prepared to take? What sort of legal architecture are you demanding to ensure that it’s implemented? Issues like that. It’s almost as if the set speeches are – I was going to say a side-event – there’s two parallel processes. There’s leader after leader marching up to the podium giving their set piece speech, and in the adjoining rooms the hard bargaining is taking place, and they sort of fill in the time, these speeches, but I think it’s the hard bargaining that’s really counting at the moment.
JB: Obama had a meeting with [Chinese Premier] Wen Jibao today – that’s the sort of thing where the real nuts and bolts are worked out, is that right?
RH: Yeah, there’s some suggestions that maybe those meetings didn’t go so well, but I don’t know. The Chinese were upset about some things that were said yesterday, but I haven’t got to the bottom of that.
JB: You haven’t heard much about it?
RH: No. But anyway, I better wind it up, but I do think it is down to the last moment, and it is history in the making, and nobody can be absolutely sure what’s going to happen at the end of the night. There’s still a lot of unhappy people – the island states are unhappy because the target that they want is not going to be included, some other developing countries are unhappy because they don’t think they’re getting the money they need for mitigation and adaptation. The OPEC countries are unhappy because they don’t think their perspective is being understood, and so you can go on. It’s quite a tense and difficult situation, but I think within another five or six hours we’ll know the outcome, and as I said, if you press me, I still think we’ll end up with an accord or an agreement, whatever you want to call it, later tonight. At least we’ll move the process forward.
JB: Everyone will leave with something, is that right?
RH: Yes, well, it’s funny with these things: leaders have to make some hard political calls as to whether they walk away and say they’re unhappy or walk away and say this is an historic moment. They tend to go for the latter; say it’s really hard work, and I mightn’t have got everything I wanted, but what I have achieved is really important. Cause it’s not generally good politics to go home and say that I failed.