The World Is In the Best of Hands

From a reader:

One contentious comma inserted two years ago into the United Nations road map for a new deal to fight global warming is again causing squabbles among delegates from the 193 nations in Copenhagen devising the pact.The comma was inserted on the first page, section 1 b (ii), of the so-called Bali Action Plan at the meeting on the Indonesian island in 2007 at the insistence of the U.S. It caused a debate that ran for two hours as the punctuation mark left open to interpretation the responsibilities of rich and poor nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions....

Delegates from the U.S. argued for the comma to be inserted so that "actions" by developing countries and not just support from industrialized nations, would be measurable, reportable and verifiable, or MRV in UN jargon.

"It took almost two hours to debate the comma," Quamrul Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi envoy who's negotiated climate issues since before the Rio Earth summit in 1992, said in an interview in Copenhagen. "One comma creates a lot of trouble."

Even with the comma, the clause is still argued over....

"The comma is a manifestation of a massive area of disagreement still among the parties," Havercamp of the Environmental Defense Fund said.


  1. DrTorch:

    Why do I have this strange memory of Winston Smith's job toward the end of the book?

  2. Douglas2:

    It's almost as if the US negotiators two years ago thought that the goal was reduction in total world carbon output, and wanted to work against language and agreements that would have created a perverse incentive to just shift emissions to locales where "measurable, reportable and verifiable" did not apply.

  3. Mesa Econoguy:

    I would much rather have them debate punctuation than carbon emission controls and enforceable caps.

  4. roger the shrubber:

    "tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury [and proper punctuation], signifying nothing."

    mesa econguy is right: better they be locked up forever in sumptuous conference rooms, endlessly debating, than to allow them to be unleashed on us. if one cannot kill the virus, the next best thing to do is isolate it. i rather suspect that (non-technical) western colleges and universities will evolve into something similar over the next few decades. more and more folks are getting wise to the 'higher education' scam, and the "unexpectedly job-resistant recession" will only make it clearer: you'll be seeing lots more stories about folks with masters in journalism and doctorates in feminine studies working as asst. managers at burger king, lamenting their $150K in student loans.

  5. O Bloody Hell:

    Just imagine the sheer hell that can happen when someone from the UN gets their head stuck in a colon!!

    ....Or does that pretty much explain the UN across the board?

  6. Craigo:

    Wow - the power of a comma.

    Now if only we could marshal a whole platoon of commas to ensure measurable, reportable and verifiable use of all aid to the third world. Would this have the (undesirable for some) effect of reducing the number of commas held in tax haven bank accounts?