The weather in Bonn for most of the two weeks of the United Nations climate change talks was muggy and grey, interspersed with thunder and some spectacular storms.
But inside the conference centre, where storms can usually be relied on, there were surprising signs of harmony. “People are working together, they are making progress,” one developed country official reported. Another said: “The atmosphere is actually very good.”
The weather changed, however, towards the close of the conference. Appearances of harmony rapidly broke down over a proposal to assess some of the scientific research around adopting a target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a target far tougher than the current target, accepted in the Copenhagen Accord, of limiting rises to 2 degrees by mid-century.
A proposal at Copenhagen to move to the 1.5 target threw that summit into turmoil and was one of the factors that helped to derail the negotiations, as officials ran out of time to sort out all of the details they needed to before their heads of government arrived.
But the revised proposal to do some research on what moving to a 1.5 target would mean was relatively uncontroversial. Except when objections were raised to the plan. By Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has a long history at UN climate talks of blocking proposals that otherwise have wide support. So there was little surprise among delegates when the oil producer made its move.
What happened next was a little more unusual. The name plate of the Saudi delegation was found smashed up and put in a toilet. Photographs of this were placed around the conference building. And a Saudi flag was also, according to at least one delegate, treated disrespectfully.
These shenanigans took up most of the last morning and overshadowed the progress that was made on a few other issues.
The incident underlined the cloistered nature of these events. Most of the delegates have been attending the seemingly endless round of these conferences for years. They no longer seem to have much perspective on how they are perceived by the rest of the world. That other people might find undignified the sight of talks that are supposed to be about the future of the planet being held up and hijacked by childish pranks seemed to mean little to the attendees, however.
Instead, when suitable outrage had been expressed over the Saudi incident, they started arguing about whether the interpreters could have a shorter lunchbreak, so that the delegates could be in front of the TV screens for the start of the football World Cup.