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Green NGOs Barred From UN Climate Negotiations

Nitin Sethi, Business Standard

As delegations from 196 countries woke up to a more balanced second draft for Paris agreement on Tuesday morning in Bonn, the gathered civil society faced a lock-out from the meat of the negotiations over the next four days.

The two co-chairs of the talks decided that civil society groups would be barred from observing the closed-door negotiations. They were backed by Japan and opposed by Malaysia speaking for the Like-Minded Developing Countries, of which India and China are also members and the G77+China group of developing countries. Most others including the US and the EU kept quiet.

On Monday evening, countries had submitted their new insertions to the draft Paris agreement, which the G77+China group had called unfair and biased. By the scheduled deadline 66 such submissions had been submitted. This included one that India submitted independently on access to green technologies and many that it supported as part of the G77+China group. Then these were implanted back in to the controversial first draft of the Paris deal. Overnight the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat worked with the co-chairs to reassemble the second draft and released it before the dawn of Tuesday.

On Tuesday when the countries’ delegations assembled again the draft was presented. “We now have a balance in the text and our views are also reflected along with others. It’s the basis for negotiations to the Paris agreement,” said a leading Indian negotiator at Bonn, speaking on the basis of anonymity.

It was decided that the negotiations would then be broken down in to seven ‘spin-off’ groups.  In the jargon-filled climate talks these spin-off groups refer to smaller parallel meetings which are tasked to handle select parts of the draft agreement to find consensus on particular issues. These resolutions are then brought back to the full house for acceptance. But, the co-chairs ruled that the spin-offs would be restricted only to negotiators and observers from the civil society groups would be barred from hearing in.

It is usual practice at the UN climate talks for accredited civil society groups to be present during the negotiations. They are not allowed to participate but can hear the back and forth between negotiators. These are meeting where the presence of media is strictly barred. The observers are permitted to take notes which most often become the first set of information emerging from behind closed doors of what particular issue or proposal was pushed by which country or block of countries. In the world of UN negotiations where diplomatic teams of better endowed countries come with teams to handle ‘public outreach’ or ‘optics’ as its sometime called, the civil society monitors provide an alternative source of information to corroborate happenings.  

While Malaysia speaking for LMDC had asked for their presence of civil society on Monday itself, the co-chairs had said they would decide on Tuesday. On Tuesday when the co-chairs barred the civil society, Malaysia asked, “Climate change involves the whole world, not only diplomats and technocrats, why aren’t observers allowed in spin-offs? We don’t need to be afraid of civil society. We are accountable to them.”

But Japan said real negotiations could not happen when civil society is present. Mexico supported the continued inclusion of NGOs and civil society as observers. It said that in case the observers were allowed in the spin off groups, another format would be required without them for actual negotiations.

Malaysia persisted, asking, “Observers have invested great deal of time, money and intellect. On what basis do we exclude them?” But, Japan did not budge and other key blocks of countries, including the EU and the US did not speak in favour of transparency. Japan is an ally of the US at the climate talks under the Umbrella group which includes Australia and Canada as well.

This left the co-chairs, one from the US and the other from Algeria, with the only option they had chosen to begin with: barring the civil society as observers. “We are now in very different phase, need to move forward briskly to Paris. Rules of convention are clear. My ruling is also clear. No observers,” the co-chair from US said.

The critical reaction from the civil society gathered at Bonn was prompt and harsh pointed particularly against Japan and asking why EU and others had not spoken in favour of transparency. For the next four days the NGOs would only be allowed to participate in what is called the plenary sessions – which are meant to sum up the negotiations and take stock.

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