A Manufactured Process

by Trudi Zundel

Allow me to quickly clarify that I’m not an idealist about the UN; I know that the concept of a “fair” international negotiation is  contradicted by the presence of global hegemons–outcomes certainly don’t reflect a middle ground between nations. However, the last three years of UNFCCC negotiations have shown us that although the power dynamics of negotiations may not lead to a fair outcome, negotiating is much, much better than what has happened in the past few years. .

In Cancun, negotiations were set to fail until the host country came out with their own agreement. I see a few fundamental problems with this way of running the show, although the fact that it’s wrong should be obvious.The first is that the papers the host country provides aren’t created in a politically neutral environment (those don’t exist)–the chair brings key countries together in back rooms to come to an agreement on the main issues, leaving all other stakeholders, Party or otherwise, out of the conversation. Also, the Chair is a country itself, and pushing for a particular agenda–in these negotiations for example, South Africa wants agriculture to be in the final text. It’s highly unlikely that agriculture won’t be in the text as a result.

The second problem is that the text in these manufactured outcomes hasn’t been agreed by all Parties. The ideas might be agreed, but countries can spend weeks fighting over two words. Words have great power. The US and its allies slipped weak language though on key issues, and developing country Parties didn’t have the opportunity to to fully read it over before agreeing to it–in general it seemed to reflect some compromises, and in the name of progress developing countries agreed (except Bolivia, of course). Now in Durban we’re seeing the USA trying to lock the Cancun Agreements in the request for a new “Durban mandate,” and we’re realizing that the “agreement” was not in fact “agreed.” Civil society groups are complaining that countries are negotiating the text again.  It’s hard to go back on something you’ve already said–something the US is using to its advantage.

The same happened with the Nagoya Protocol,

Finally, allowing the Chair to produce a text at the last minute that all Parties then agree to sets a horrible president, even an expectation, that Parties can spend a year working on a text only to have the Chair save their asses in the eleventh hour.  South Africa has already indicated that it intends to put together a decision text this week, saying that they “may end up putting their heads together and coming up with synergies between Party positions”. The new LCA texts are far too long for ministers to negotiate in three days–they seem more like a distraction than an actual attempt at agreement. South Africa will drop a new text on the last night, when negotiators are desperate for an agreement so they can go home to bed. But this will be the third year in a row that the outcome of a COP doesn’t reflect the negotiations inside.

The reason that the Chair has to manufacture the final text is because countries can’t agree on these issues. The whole point of negotiations is to find a to agree. Even though the more powerful countries manipulate and strong arm the weaker, more vulnerable ones, it’s much worse if they can simply side-step the discussions with developing countries altogether by putting together a “make-or-break” text. Official negotiations are just time-fillers while select people sit in the Hilton Hotel that’s right next door and put together the final decision. Negotiators can’t be allowed to assume that they will be saved on the last night, and need to take the negotiation time seriously.

Forcing countries to negotiate can lead to reasonable outcomes: the Bali Mandate, for one example. However, in this political climate it doesn’t seem like Bali could be repeated or built upon; developed country Parties have sniffed a way out of commitments. What needs to happen is for developing countries to take a page from Bolivia’s book and refuse to agree to a text that they did not have part in negotiating. Under the new regime (as it is now) there wouldn’t be any climate action anyway, so they have little to lose by taking a stand.

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