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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 42a - Thursday, 28 February 2008
No time to spare for LDCs in climate-change negotiations
By Saleemul Huq, International Institute for Environment and Development
Time is running out for governments of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to ensure they get the most from a new international regime to tackle climate change.

Last December in Bali, nearly 200 countries agreed to negotiate a new regime under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by December 2009. There could be grave consequences for the fifty UN-recognised LDCs if their needs are not addressed.

It is critical for LDC governments to understand the UNFCCC processes and take steps to overcome their lack of capacity. They can do this by working with each other, by engaging with civil society organisations, and by ensuring they have the best people in their negotiating teams.

Climate change is already affecting the poorest people in the poorest countries — in your country as in mine, Bangladesh. With time running out, the LDCs need to take urgent steps to maximise their chances of getting a positive outcome as the negotiations develop and intensify.

Sharing the burden

A major problem for the LDCs is the lack of personnel available to participate effectively in the negotiations. LDCs can usually only afford to send one negotiator (for the full two weeks of the annual conference of the UNFCCC) and one minister for the high-level second week of negotiations.

This is a handicap because the UNFCCC negotiations can break up into as many as 20 parallel sessions for different agenda items. It is impossible then for a single LDC delegate to follow all the agenda items, while the rich countries have big enough delegations to be attend all sessions.

But as the nearly fifty LDCs share common interests in the negotiations, they can be a sizeable delegation if they act together as a team. The LDC group has already negotiated well together to demand a special fund to help them adapt to climate change, and to ensure they are represented on the board of another adaptation fund set up under the Kyoto Protocol. They need to tighten this shared approach to negotiations and seek common ground with other vulnerable countries such as the Small Island Developing States.

The right people

Another problem is that LDCs rarely send the same non-ministerial lead negotiator to UNFCCC meetings. This lack of continuity is a major handicap. It is important to select a lead negotiator now and keep them in that position for all forthcoming negotiations.
This person needs expertise not so much in technical aspects of climate change but in international diplomacy. The most appropriate person would be a senior diplomat with experience at the United Nations. Given the almost full-time nature of the international negotiations from now until December 2009, it may also be worth appointing a full time ‘special envoy’ for climate change.

Officials, technical experts and NGO representatives should support the lead negotiator in the delegation to each meeting. This means finding the resources to send a sizeable team, but it is not the quantity of people that matters as much as the quality.

This team needs expertise about the technical aspects of different agenda items. For LDCs, the most relevant technical issue is that of ‘adaptation’ to adverse impacts of climate change and specifically the agenda items about funding for adaptation.

Civil society actors

Before the team goes to the negotiations it should also consult and work closely with local nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). The NGOs can often shape the official negotiations through their research and advocacy.

The NGO community has been particularly effective as an advocacy group operating under the banner of the Climate Action Network, which now numbers several hundred NGOs (there were over 5,000 NGO observers at the last UNFCCC conference in Bali).

In the case of LDCs, the demands of governments and NGOs are virtually identical so it makes sense for them to work together. Some LDC governments already invite NGO staff to join their official government delegations. This cooperation needs to become more widespread and more effective in future.

Another significant aspect of the international negotiations is the role of media, both local and international. People in LDCs need to know about the impacts of climate change they will face in the future, and people in the wealthier countries need to hear the views of the poor and vulnerable. Governments should engage the media and encourage them to report widely on climate change and how it will affect their countries. This is an opportunity that needs to be exploited intelligently.

Political support

Any LDC delegation to a climate change summit must have high-level political support. This means involving key ministers including those of environment, finance and foreign affairs — or better still the head of state.

The minister who goes to the second (‘high level’) week of the summit needs to be well briefed about the negotiating process. A common misconception among ministers is that the most important activity for all the other members of their delegation is to help them write their speech.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The ministers’ speeches are some of the least important inputs to a summit and they almost never influence the negotiations. On the contrary, very often, as the ministers are giving their speeches in the main plenary hall, the real negotiations are continuing in a smaller group elsewhere. Indeed, by pulling the lead negotiator out of negotiations, the minister’s presence can actually have a negative outcome on their country’s interests.

The climate-change negotiation process can be compared to a big passenger ship with many activities going on in different rooms at the same time, with every one discussing which direction the ship should go. One of these rooms contains the ministers giving their speeches. At the same time, a small number of delegates from a few countries who have been recognised for their skills are invited to the ship’s bridge to help decide which way to steer it.

If an LDC and its lead negotiator fail to be invited on to the bridge, no amount of ministerial speeches will make any difference.

Saleemul Huq is head of the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He can be contacted at
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