it may as well be gobbledeegook

3 days in and how are we feeling? How far have we got?

I cannot believe how tired I am when we have only been 3 days! We have been chasing people, and constantly trying to think of ways to get round the many obstacles that keep popping up, like Sam losing all his clothes; how can we make our FIG survey more accessible; does that question lead the interviewees; how can we get the delegates attention for 5 minutes….but I should be ashamed because essentially we are a delegation of 2, just like Barbados, just like the Democratic Republic of Congo and many others who have been here for 8 days of negotiating. They must be tired to the bone because they have to concentrate on minute details of text so boring you wouldn’t believe it was possible. The youth constituency’s focal points have been here the whole time too, facilitating the participation of youth in this process, and they are dog-tired from speaking to the police and the secretariat about youth actions, coordinating millions of meetings between youth and many important people, including the soon to be Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christina Figures; the kind of tired that even the success of making youth campaign history in the negotiations can’t prevent.

Despite this however, we have collected over 10 completed surveys and are waiting to hear back from a mere 180 countries whose pigeon holes we have each stuck a survey in! We have emailed NGO members of the delegations to see if they can push their delegation to fill it out for us because NGO types tend to be more sympathetic to a fellow non-government person. Now the plan is to try to get ourselves some coverage by the paper bulletins that each delegate picks up every morning on their way in to get their fix of secondary commentary on the negotiations, wish us luck, it’s unlikely to happen!

All these things, coupled with the simple reality of these talks that I walk headlong into every time I come-that is that they dare not move in case they do actually save the planet-is pretty wearing. It is hard to convey to delegates that if they fill in our dry and boring survey, they could just be a bit better off in a years time.

The aim of FIG is that we collect all the evidence for the reason why we had to support delegations like Kiribati in Copenhagen in the first place. We offered our support unconditionally, i.e we would do whatever they asked, but the main thing they needed us for was taking minutes. It occurred to us that to be sending these minutes to only 1 delegation was highly inefficient when so many more delegations were/are in need of the same service.

But why should we fill the gap?

We say that minutes are a primary source of information that directly affects delegations negotiating positions, therefore, everyone should be able to access the same information by being able to read exactly who said what in all the negotiations. As it is the only minutes are webcasts that take hours to watch because it’s live streaming of the actual negotiations! Large delegations have civil servants to take notes in each session which they can use, but they don’t share them.

If everyone can see who said what, it means they can’t go back on what they said without it going unnoticed; new negotiators can see the history of decisions were adopted rather than the current system of identifying the proposal and the outcome-but nothing in between. I would have thought this was a basic requirement that the secretariat of the UN could fulfill which would improve the inequity of the process twofold:

1) small delegations could catch up with all the details of the meetings they couldn’t physically go to without having to watch the webcasts.

2) Those  same delegations could then participate more fully because they’re more likely to understand what’s going on and thus iron grip of the developed countries over this process may be slackened minutely…

I jump to conclusions though, our survey, which you can have a look at here, asks the delegates about gaps in information they experience, in all its forms, so we might be entirely wrong about the transcripts. We’ll just have to see.

Je ne comprend pas

Another pretty shocking thing we have noticed is that the banks of translation booths, which are normally left by the wayside in the smaller meeting rooms, have been empty even in the main plenary hall!

What’s that about eh?

Don’t worry we’re on the case, especially as many of the delegates we have surveyed already, mention that language does hamper their participation. C’mon UN please don’t fall apart just as the delegates might start to get their acts together!


something smacks of inequity…

There is a text on the table. We all know it’s not enough: it’s not fair, ambitious or legally binding. I’m sitting in the plenary now (yes, it’s 5 in the morning) and state after state take the floor to emphasise that if this deal were signed, it would lead to the deaths of large chunks of humanity.

The most shocking part of all of this is how it was created. Earlier this week, China was in uproar over the Danish text – ‘it’s fallen out of the sky, there is no way we can discuss this’. Meetings are happening behind closed doors, for those countries informally dubbed ‘friends of the chair’.

Out came an ‘agreement’ which no one will agree to.

Sovereign equality has been ignored.

It is what we have been saying from the beginning.

At the beginning of the week civil society organisations were largely evicted from the conference centre. Posters reading ‘how can you make decisions about us, without us?’ appeared everywhere. The same now seems to have happened to the less economically advanced.

The problem is largely systematic.

Yesterday I sat in a high-level ministerial meeting about ‘developed’ countries’ emissions cuts and a woman from Japan couldn’t understand the level of English being used. There are no interpreters in side rooms (where most of the content is discussed) and as things got more important things sped up and native English speakers outstripped non-natives. Some text was pushed through that some delegates didn’t even understand. In a plenary session China began to speak and there was no interpretation. The meeting was suspended for 2 hours until enough interpreters were herded into their labelled boxes. Just now, a Venezuelan delegate needed to bang the table until her hand bled before getting attention.

According to some old-time negotiators here, one of the key tactics for pushing the Kyoto protocol through was tiring the negotiators out. Incoherence and melted minds claim their first victims from the weakest delegations.

It is a simple equation. Negotiations run 9 ‘til 5(am), some delegations are really big (300+) some are small (2). Small delegations lose mental capacity very quickly. This is not a joke.

Small delegations are usually of the countries which need to be heard most. As there aren’t as many people in island nations and developing countries as there are in Canada, the US and China, people argue that many small delegations have no right to expand. But the UN is not a democracy – it is consensus run. Everybody must agree on a common mission, at least that’s the idea.

With that as the fundamental aim, all countries must have the same capacity to voice their positions. When delegates wither and fall, whether they are replaced or not, the process has failed those who need it most.

Thankfully, at least for now, it is impossible to make a deal about them without them. UN consensus rules that everybody needs to agree, which is why no agreement has come out yet. Hopefully, at some point in the near future,  those who are excluding others will realise that they are excluding themselves as much as the rest of the world.