By the evening of Tuesday 7 June, the UN Climate Change talks in Bonn, Germany, had been going on for a day and a half. Except they hadn’t. Delegates to two of the crucial working groups that will shape the outcome of the negotiations still couldn’t decide on an agenda for the coming fortnight. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBTA), and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), were supposed to have finalised their agendas by Monday afternoon. But because of a disagreement over the inclusion of items on REDD, and lack of consensus around the wording of agenda items relating to National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs), the talks were deadlocked before anyone had started debating the real issues.
In the corridors of the Federal Ministry of Transport after the CDKN side event on ‘Building capacity of developing country leaders and negotiators to influence international talks’, many of the people I spoke to were frustrated by this lengthy administrative process. They worried that with only one UN climate meeting left before the major negotiations in South Africa begin in December, there’s no time to waste. Some hadn’t been able to follow the talks closely enough to understand what was happening. Others were new to the UNFCCC scene, and found the array of abbreviations and arcane procedures on show mystifying.
But each made the same point. Climate change negotiators from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) often get their jobs at short notice. Their under-resourced bureaucracies and negotiating teams tend to lack the institutional memory to support this transition. Flying to and from four UN climate change meetings a year, the negotiators have little time to develop a grounding in their countries’ priorities. If hardened UNFCCC watchers can be baffled and frustrated by the negotiations process, the lack of assistance for LDCs puts them at an immediate disadvantage.
The side event participants had heard from Benito Mueller of ecbi about how to build trust between developing country negotiators and their European counterparts by bringing them together for intensive workshops. They had watched a fascinating presentation by Paula Castro and Katharina Michaelova of the University of Zurich, about strategies that deliver success in the negotiations. Paula argued that the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) group had won concessions by ‘borrowing power’: emphasising, for instance, the interests that northern and southern countries share in fighting climate change. India, Katharina suggested, had turned from a ‘porcupine’ to a ‘tiger’ in the negotiations. It used to be very prickly, giving little ground on emissions reductions pledges; now Indian representatives are much more consensual.
After the formal presentations, there was a panel discussion featuring Farhana Yamin of CIFF, Orlando Rey from the Cuban delegation and Ephraim Mwepya, a Tanzanian negotiator. The speakers – with contributions from the audience – interrogated exactly what capacity building means. Support for LDC negotiators needs to recognise that as the focus of negotiating groups gets more and more specific (there is now a group for rainforest states, and another made up of Bolivarian republics), we’ll need more processes like the Cartagena dialogue which bridge delegates’ positions. This will mean capacity building across key topical negotiations issues, such as finance and sustainability.
Tanzania was cited as a positive example of how countries can integrate preparedness for the talks into national planning – the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy makes specific reference to the discussions. Many of the speakers focused on capacity building of LDC environment ministries – the agencies that usually conduct the talks – within their home bureaucracies. This might involve bringing officials from a country’s environment, finance and foreign ministries together to hammer out what they want collectively to achieve from the UNFCCC process.
LDC negotiators should also be supported to communicate better with the media, at both national and international levels. Depending on its focus, media coverage of a country’s performance can encourage politicians to engage more closely with the negotiations. In her closing statement, Farhana Yamin reminded us that the most powerful politicians in the world had balked at the complexity of the climate negotiations when they gathered in Copenhagen. Without support and capacity building for those with the least resources, the LDC position risks ending up like this week’s draft agenda – rejected before the talks have even begun.