DURBAN, South Africa–The climate change summit here has already gone over schedule longer than any previous U.N. climate negotiations. Originally scheduled to conclude Friday, as of 6 p.m. local time Saturday there was no end in site. That’s later than the 2:30 p.m. Saturday finish in Bali, Indonesia in 2007, the previous record for a late finish.

When it’s all said and done, at least some of the blame may be paced on a so-far unexplained fake negotiating text that made the rounds late Friday and which U.N. officials said they were still having to dismiss on Saturday.

It is not clear if the text was a serious attempt at compromise that was somehow distributed to delegates, a practical joke, or possibly even an unusual attempt to sabotage the talks. Whatever it was, it is clear it significantly slowed down negotiations.

The bogus document presented itself as a compromise text produced from the United States, the European Union, Mexico, and the BASIC countries--Brazil, China, India, and South Africa--a collection of countries that have rarely been on the same page in these talks.

The document indicated that the notion of “common but differentiated responsibilities”--language in the Kyoto Protocol that allows for developing countries to do less to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than their richer counterparts--would be left out of the negotiating process going forward.

It also said work on the new legal agreement should start next year, a view held by some of the countries said to be behind the document, but that the new accord would go into effect after 2020. Most of the countries whose names were attached, however, have said they would like to see a new deal go into effect by 2020 at the latest.

Strangely, the text also carried an impossible date: Friday, Dec. 10, 2011. Friday, the date the meetings were scheduled to end, fell on Dec. 9.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, president of the meetings, issued a statement indicating the text was a fake. But it clearly wasted a great deal of time and energy among an exhausted set of delegates who have little time or energy to spare.

U.N. officials said security was still trying to determine the origin of the unlikely document.


Eric is a Rome-based correspondent for Bloomberg BNA. He covers legal and policy developments in Italy, and has written about international climate change negotiations and developments within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since 2000. Originally from Florida, he is a graduate of Florida State University.