Fiona Harvey Cancun – The Mexican Text: the scandal that wasn’t

As ministers arrived in Cancun to join their officials, the star of the show so far was obvious: the Mexican hosts.

Praise has been heaped on the Mexicans for their skilful chairing of key meetings and the way they have managed to rebuild trust – especially among developing countries – after the acrimonious scenes that marred the final stages of the Copenhagen summit last year.

Privately, many of the delegations were pleased with the smooth handling of difficult negotiations. Some observers were prepared to go public with their views: Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, commended the “deft” handling of the hosts, while Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and – as a former US negotiator under President Bill Clinton – a veteran of many such meetings, said how impressed she was with the way the hosts had displayed both the right tact and the necessary firmness.

One signal illustration of the success of the hosts came at the weekend, when rumours started circulating of a “secret” Mexican text.

Through this secret sell-out document, so the rumour-mongers were saying, the Mexican hosts of the conference were planning to effectively end the prospects of a continuation of the 1997 Kyoto protocol. By allowing rich nations to ditch Kyoto, they would be betraying the developing countries.

Veterans of Copenhagen sighed as they heard about it. This all sounded very like the so-called Danish text that caused an upset in the first few days of last year’s climate summit.

The issue of what to do about the Kyoto protocol is a major bone of contention at this year’s talks – just as it proved a roadblock at Copenhagen.

However, this contrasts with the praise that has been heaped upon the Mexicans for their expert handling of the conference. The host country plays a huge role in determining the success or failure of these negotiations, because of the powers it has to bring down the gavel on discussions and declare them closed.

Hosts lacking either the patience to allow all countries to have their say and feel valued, or the firmness to end discussions when some countries may be using delaying tactics, will fail miserably.

So the idea that the Mexicans had a secret text was explosive. But as it turned out, the text was not secret at all. It had been prepared, as have been all documents, in full consultation with all relevant parties. And rather than selling out poor countries, it left the options on the table.

Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the US Natural Resources Defence Council, rebuffed criticism that the Mexican government had behaved badly. He said:

The Mexicans have done a fantastic job organising the actual negotiations here in Cancun. They have had an open door policy for any country that wants to provide input. They are taking input from all sides and trying to craft an agreement which can meet those sometimes different positions. That is how the host is supposed to manage such a complicated negotiation.

A text will be released tomorrow which builds upon all the negotiations over the previous week, which were open and transparent. There is nothing secret about these processes or the text that will be released.  They have gone to extreme lengths to take all input into account.