Tiny Tuvalu islands could make or break the UN Climate Summit

I’m told by family and friends who are a comfortable distance from the Bella Centre that all they can hear is angry barking.

It’s certainly absolutely bewildering. Everyone – NGOs, negotiators and journalists – is trying to figure out the significance of the draft text tabled by small island countries that no-one’s seen yet and the draft text from Africa that no-one’s seen yet and the freeze on negotiations caused by the 4th smallest country in the world …

But what it all boils down to is worth barking about. Over the past two years, rich countries have failed to put enough on the table to give developing countries confidence in what’s going to happen here in Copenhagen. That matters because they are least to blame for climate change and most at risk from its impacts. For 2 years the climate negotiations have been highly technical, and to some extent that has shunted the big issues aside – issues such as whether climate change negotiations are going to result in a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal.

What Tuvalu did over the last 48 hours might seem from the outside to be a lot of angry noise from tiny islands, but they could make or break the COP. In insisting on open, transparent discussions about the legal form of any deal that comes out of Copenhagen, they are forcing governments around the world to face up to the things really matter if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change. A political declaration that is not legally binding is like a shark without teeth.

Tuvalu’s stance is being supported by sub-Saharan Africa and the small island states, who have made passionate and powerful statements about the catastrophic impact of climate change on their people. For many vulnerable countries, strong action on climate change is nothing short of a matter of life and death.

Towards the end of this very long day there came good news from a surprising quarter. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has just publicly stated that money to help developing countries cope with global warming must be over and above commitments already made for development aid. Although it sounds like an obvious thing to say, only a couple of other governments, including the UK and the Dutch, have been prepared to say it. It’s a bold move, and an extremely important one because it raises the barr for other European countries, who are due to show their hand tomorrow. It’s bound to be another long day.

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