A lotta hot air: Loquacious leaders make for a long day at climate summit

PARIS (Reuters) - Clearly His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco is unaccustomed to being told to stop talking.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech on the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Filling in for his older brother, King Mohammed VI, the prince’s opening remarks at the Paris climate conference went on and on, his hands shuffling a thick sheaf of papers.

With 152 leaders in attendance for the opening session, each leader was told to keep their speeches to a crisp three minutes. After that, an electronic bell would sound three times to signal that time was at an end.

Prince Moulay Rachid kept going for 10.

And even he was far from the worst offender.

U.S. President Barack Obama followed the prince with one of the lengthiest addresses of the day at 13 and a half minutes, ploughing on through repeated pinging of the bell.

“There is always a unique interest in what the president of the United States has to say about an issue of global importance,” said Ben Rhodes, his deputy national security adviser, when asked why his boss had taken up so much air time.

As speaker followed loquacious speaker, the violations threatened to turn a long opening day into an intolerable one, even though the officials had been divided in half, with simultaneous sessions in separate rooms.

Idriss Déby Itno, president of Chad, took 14 minutes.

And so it went, until early evening when Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of the Pacific island of Tuvalu, chairing one of the sessions, forcefully told the leaders to stick to the three-minute rule. (Sopoaga’s own speech, two hours earlier, had run for 8.)

Most speakers managed to keep themselves to no more than double their allotment, enough time to empathize with host France for the extremist attacks suffered this month; pledge to do their part to combat global warming; and call upon other countries to help them change the world.

A few leaders kept their remarks pithy. “We are at this stage where I think we can safely say that every point that needs to be made has been made, although not by every single speaker,” British Prime Minister David Cameron jested, before ripping through the rest of his points on time.

Even the off-stage press conferences were running long. An official waved his hands at Bolivia’s Evo Morales after a 30-minute news conference, telling him: “You have to stop now.”

Then, in an aside to a colleague, he added: “That’s the first time I’ve ever told a president to stop talking.”

Gradually, the leaders who came later in the program managed to keep close to the limit. The pace picked up. And organizers caught a break when it was revealed that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro - widely known as one of the most verbose heads of state - would not attend, choosing instead to address a political rally at home ahead of a crucial weekend election. There, he spoke for nearly two hours – brief by his standards.

So almost 10 hours after it began, with a break for lunch, the speeches were done.

And the reason the King of Morocco had to defer to his brother?

He arrived in Paris having lost his voice.

Reporting by Bruce Wallace, Alister Doyle, Bate Felix and Barbara Lewis in Paris; Nina Chestney and Susanna Twidale in London; Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas; Editing by Jonathan Leff