Resources “R” Us – leveling the playing field in climate talks3 comments
CANCUN, Mexico– There’s a small group of young activists at UN climate talks that don´t carry placards or shout slogans. They definitely don’t make any headlines. Instead they choose to change the world one incredibly boring transcription at a time.
“Many delegations don’t have the resources that are desperately needed to participate meaningfully in the negotiations,” says Charlie Young, coordinator of UNfairplay, which aims to eradicate the inequalities resulting from the widely divergent punching power within the delegations pack.
Europeans have twice as many delegates as Africans per capita, says Young, whose scribes are busy around the conference dotting i’s and crossing t’s. For every 100 million people living in Africa there are three delegates. The EU has 6.4 delegates.
UNfairplay offers delegations from developing countries professional services like meeting transcriptions, prompt translation of important statements, or access to credible NGOs that can help them articulate viewpoints.
Young: “The delegation from Honduras has three people, one of whom does not speak English but has to follow the complex talks on finance. We help them to understand what’s being discussed.”
It takes days for multilateral organizations like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to translate key documents. The UNFCCC cannot seem to offer any other transcriptions than webcasts that are inaccessible in countries sporting a low bandwidth.
Last year, Young traveled to Copenhagen with a couple of pals to assist negotiators threatened with being snowed under by the flurry of information around them.
The small Pacific island nation of Kiribati, facing extinction because of rising sea levels, was the first to engage the services of UNfairplay, but they are by no means the only ones. Through their blog UNfairplay offers assistance to Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), many Least Developed Countries and anyone who needs it, completely for free and without an agenda.
In Mexico UNfairplay has gone further and released a report detailing the number of delegates per country and how this – quite predictably – influences their chances of making themselves heard. They hope it will spur the UNFCCC to rectify what they deem to be a continuing unfairness in the climate talks.
“The countries who end up having to sacrifice meetings tend to not only be those which are least economically developed but also those which are most susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change,” states a press release accompanying the report.
“Brazil as an individual state has 70% more delegates than the entire AOSIS coalition of 39 countries.”
At the 16th-annual UN climate talks in Cancun, UNfairplay has nine people working overtime to cover meetings and provide translation services, but more support is needed.
“The funding pot to get developing-country delegates to these meetings has dwindled. Only four countries are contributing to it and the budget is about USD1 million,” says Young.
Christine Mukumba is a negotiator from Namibia who attended preparatory climate talks with just two colleagues in Tianjin, China in October this year. “It’s almost a power play game,” she told me a while back. “The industrialized countries can afford to bring in fresh faces at the table every couple of hours. At 3 am when countries with few delegates are no longer there they push through a decision.”
Namibia saw its delegation to Cancun cut in half from 41 to 20 because of funding issues just days before the talks started.
They are now struggling to keep up with the murderous pace of the talks.
“We are underrepresented,” says another delegate from Namibia. “If you have a larger delegation you have some clout and can even snap up crucial chairmanships that give you influence at the talks.”
While developed countries have established ‘war rooms’ in hotel suites at the conference centre, cooled by softly humming aircon and equipped with the latest office equipment, delegates from countries like Namibia have to take a two hour bus ride to even reach the security check point.
“It’s not surprising that the negotiations are where they are right now, given the limited voice developing countries have,” argues Young