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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 December 2005, 09:23 GMT
Jargon obscures Montreal message
By Tim Hirsch
BBC Environment correspondent, Montreal

Climate change protesters in Montreal, Canada
Environmental groups are struggling to communicate their message
At the halfway point of the UN climate change talks in Montreal, environmental groups are struggling a bit to work out who the latest villain is in this long-running drama.

Usually it is very straightforward. The US is generally a dead cert for the award of "Fossil of the Day", reviled by green groups for its rejection of the Kyoto protocol, closely followed by Saudi Arabia for what are regarded as obstructive tactics.

After some opening salvos refusing any involvement in talks about future global climate change action, the American delegation here has been fairly quiet in recent days, largely because the discussions have mainly been about the detail of the protocol itself, from which the US has excluded itself.

So it was with some surprise that delegates saw that the award, announced each afternoon in a small ceremony in the Palais des Congres, had been given to Japan.

After inquiries with some of the green activists, the BBC News website learned that the sin of the Japanese delegation was to table a conference paper entitled, "Proposal for criteria for cases of failure to submit information relating to estimates of greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks from activities under Article 3.3 and 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol".

That must be bad, probably worse than clubbing baby seals on the head.

Procedural maze

But somehow the activists who immerse themselves in the jargon and procedural labyrinths of the climate change process seem to have lost sight of how to communicate their message to the other six billion people on the planet.

Another example came earlier in the week when community leaders were brought all the way from Africa to stand in the freezing Montreal winter to back a proposal to protect the world's forests.

The even greater challenge will be to find any of the 8,000 or so participants who can explain to the rest of the world what on earth has been going on

The catchy slogan on the posters read "Support Agenda Item Six Now!" It has a certain ring to it, but it is not quite "Save the Whale" or "No Nukes".

To be fair, it is not just the green activists who speak another language in these conferences - the same is true of the government delegates themselves, the business lobbyists and even sometimes the journalists who have spent too long covering the issue.

I am told that the process has been going on so long that there are now second-generation climate change junkies who have been brought up knowing exactly what is meant by certified emissions reductions, joint implementation and the Marrakech Accords.

Bargaining tool

For the record, the Marrakech Accords are the series of agreements signed in Morocco in 2001, after years of painful negotiation, on the rules of meeting the targets set by the Kyoto protocol.

Because Kyoto only came into force earlier this year, it is at this conference that the accords have finally passed into international law, in a series of unopposed decisions hailed immediately as historic by the conference organisers.

This may have simply been a rubber-stamping of decisions made four years ago, but in a process as troubled as this one, navigating any stretch of water without hitting a rock is understandably a cause for great celebration.

And in fact the bringing into force of the Kyoto system is not out of the rapids yet. A procedural objection by Saudi Arabia means that the system of enforcing the rules has not yet been agreed.

The suspicion is that this is being held as a bargaining tool to gain other concessions later in the conference.

The great challenge at the end of this conference will be to judge whether it has been a success or failure in terms of ensuring the long-term future of global action on climate change

The even greater challenge will be to find any of the 8,000 or so participants who can explain to the rest of the world what on earth has been going on.

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