Filling Information Gaps or FIG for short was born out of the work that UNfairplay has undertaken both at Copenhagen and at previous United Nations Climate Change negotiations (UNFCCC). Fundamentally UNfairplay is about addressing issues of inequality in negotiating capacity between parties in the UNFCCC through the voluntary efforts of civil society, especially the large and abundant youth movement involved in the UNFCCC process. A great deal of the work done by us for delegations was simply producing transcripts and in some cases summaries of meetings and side events which the country found useful but for which they did not have the man power to attend.
Over the course of our time in Copenhagen the most striking observation for many of us was how cryptic everything was. The whole enterprise is so vast that to stay on top of even a part of it is a struggle for professionals. This leads to expert knowledge unavoidably being concentrated in the hands of the few and the over reliance on reported interpretations separated from the context in which events may have been delivered. We feel having transcripts or notes from multiple stakeholders in a well catalogued searchable format would be mutually beneficial for everyone involved or wanting to get involved. In much the same way that social networking like twitter enables dynamic exchange of news, dynamic negotiations may be easier to keep track of and the multiplicity of interpretations by different stakeholders more easily identified.
UNFCCC sessions are always swarming with NGO’s, Youth Groups, Delegates all taking notes, recording, blogging and writing. Essentially there’s a lot of information being taken down, but it’s not being shared efficiently for the maximum benefit of everyone. Online information isn’t catalogued in a way that is easy to track down specific meetings, and statements made cannot be easily traced to specific individuals. Even the context of the conversation, which could make or break a bilateral deal or the political relationship between two countries, is hard to track down, especially when quoted in the international press. In other words there is an information gap and closing this gap would be beneficial for everyone:
Civil society – It would become far easier to keep up to speed with negotiations and work out what is going on if not in attendance. People could check what they read rather than blindly believing. Greater open access coverage would be more democratic.
Media – Greater coverage would provide far richer resources with which to report international climate talks.
Delegations (especially small ones) – Not having a presence at all meetings can be problematic, most of the nitty gritty of the texts they are negotiating takes place in the intercessional’s between the annual COP’s, but a lot of LEDC’s with small delegations can’t afford to send anyone to the smaller meetings so some of the most important negotiations can be easily missed. Negotiations are snakes and whispers and so relying on second hand hear say is disadvantageous. Clear transcripts or a range of attributable (i.e. specific person or NGO) interpretations comparable in one place would greatly improve the transparency of negotiations and make the actions of specific countries and individuals more accountable, whilst increasing the involvement of the smaller delegations who tend to have the most at stake.
What’s the plan?
At the moment this project is still in its infancy. The first target is to delve deeper into this idea of information gaps by directly consulting stake holders. Asking delegates how they get their information? Where do they primarily get it from? Where they feel channels of information are lacking? What changes would they like to see happen? Do they think pooling of the information collected by civil society would be beneficial?
Using these answers we can then brainstorm how could a service be implemented that might solve some gaps and bring the disparate streams of information together in one place where they may be categorised by location, author, time etc…. We need all the information we can get, and when we have enough there are two possible avenues that we see available:
1) Creating this web resource ourselves, and manning it ourselves, hopefully with some NGO funding and support.
2) Lobbying the UN Secretariat (responsible for the webcasts and general organisation of the meetings) with the results, in whatever form they emerge.
F.I.G. has developed in to the report ‘Levelling the Playing Field’, it is downloadable from box.net at the bottom of this page.
For more info or to get involved, please comment on this page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
* Further updates will be published on the blog section of this website*