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FEATURE: New guide helps developing countries through global climate talks


Joy Hyvarinen is Director of the Foundation for International Environment Law and Development. (FIELD)

Participating in international negotiations, such as the UNFCCC climate change talks, can be confusing, stressful and frustrating. The issues discussed are often very technical, and complicated. Participants speak in bureaucratic code to one another.

Things are often not as they seem: delegates play power games, and hidden agendas are everywhere. The rules of the game evolve as negotiations progress, making it difficult to keep up. Even experienced negotiators can find themselves struggling in multilateral environmental (MEA) negotiations.

Representatives of poor developing countries face the hardest challenges. With limited resources, fewer experts and usually more at stake, they battle much larger delegations from developed countries, with highly qualified experts and specialist negotiators.

Recognising this dilemma, FIELD has prepared a guide called ‘Help for MEA negotiators who encounter problems’. The guide aims to help negotiators deal with difficult situations that may arise in negotiations such as those under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. It suggests practical approaches, and covers some legal questions.

The guide starts with a short chapter explaining the basics of MEA negotiations, such as the roles of the Chair and the Bureau, what happens during negotiations, and what the schedule of a day at a negotiating session might look like.

The main part of the guide describes what could be a typical, but very problematic, week for a negotiator. It goes through the week day-by-day, with examples of difficult situations that could come up in preparatory country group meetings; plenary sessions; working groups or drafting groups; and ‘in the corridors’.

It asks a number of questions: what can you do if the Chair of a meeting takes up an issue that is not on the agenda, or does not allow you to speak, even though you’ve requested the floor? What if journalists write negative media stories about your country? How can you deal with the situation if a senior negotiator bullies you? What options do you have if the Chair proposes an agreement that is unacceptable to your country?

The guide goes through situations such as these and suggests possible tactics for to solving problems. The answers to some of the questions are often found in the rules of procedure, which govern how negotiations in each MEA are conducted.

Other situations call for practical approaches, such as being willing to explore compromises – or standing your ground when you need to. Listening and trying to understand the other party’s point of view and the reasons behind it is usually a good starting point to resolving problematic situations.

Several senior negotiators from developing countries commented on the guide, and FIELD is very grateful for their help.

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