Climate debt news
Crunch time in Cancun
Julian Oram, used to be head of policy and campaigns
I’m writing this on the bus in transit from the ‘hotel zone’ to the conference centre as we enter the final day of negotiations here at the COP16 in Cancun. If I was to describe my mood now the word that comes to mind first is nervous; I feel like its final exam day, although it’s the delegations who will ultimately leave here with the pass or fail mark.
Thursday was an odd day. There were a series of statements from various Ministers in the morning, and again in the late afternoon, on their hopes and fears of what is to come out of here. The perspectives and emphasis differed, but the key message was strikingly similar: we must not let Cancun be a failure; and we must find a way to reach agreement and set aside our individual self-interests to work towards the common goal of averting catastrophic climate change.
In between the set-piece statements, Ministers of some countries were working behind the scenes in ‘informal’ meetings to craft yet another set of negotiating texts. These surfaced around mid-afternoon, although its difficult to be sure of exactly when, because the texts were not made public or posted on the UN website. This is when it becomes useful to have connections to delegations, officially or otherwise. ‘Psst, buddy, slip me a copy of the new text!’
Ridiculous isn’t it? Clandestine dealings over documents that should by all rights be freely available. But this is merely indicator of a wider theme at this year’s UN climate talks; exclusion, secrecy and censorship.
This theme has manifest itself in various ways; the most serious of which is the marginalisation of smaller, developing from the behind-the-scenes spaces where the new texts are fashioned. The Mexican Presidency has made a big deal about listening to all parties and attempting to bring in all views. But in practice its still the rich countries, larger developing countries and a smattering of others who set the agenda.
At the same time, those developing countries that try to ensure that the interests of poor nations are kept at the forefront of the negotiations find the negotiating texts continually revised in favour of proposals supported largely by rich countries; while countries that challenge certain issues – such as the role of carbon markets – continually find their amendments removed or bracketed when the new texts are presented.
Meanwhile, we’re hearing rumours of bilateral threats being against some of the smaller developing countries, and enticements of one-off payments to buy support for certain positions. Pretty sordid stuff.
Added to this, the ability of NGOs to vocalise objections or concerns over the process or substance of the negotiations is being dramatically squeezed. A number of our NGO colleagues have even been excluded for ‘unauthorised chanting’. Our own Kirsty’s badge was temporarily suspended simply filming that particular event. To top it all, we’ve been told that no protests against (or even about or even mentioning) the World Bank are allowed.
Nothing new, one might argue. After all, we’ve been used to this kind of thing in other multilateral fora, such as the World Trade Organisation, for years.
But the point is, this isn’t the WTO. At the World Development Movement we spend a lot of time defending the UN system, particularly vis-à-vis keeping climate finance in a the control of a system that is democratically accountable to all of its member states – rich and poor alike.
The UNFCCC must remember that its legitimacy hinges on support its member state governments, and the civil society groups and individuals within these. This legitimacy will only be maintained if it operates in accordance with basic principles of inclusiveness, accountability and transparency.