This article is written by Gwenaël Podesta.
So be it. The access of observers from civil society (CSO) to the spin off sessions will be denied. The CSO include representatives, activists and experts from NGOs and the private sector, but also media and representatives from UN institutions such as WHO, UNEP, UNDP, etc. Their access was obtained after a very long struggle in order to bring transparency and expertise to the talks.
This week in Bonn, the Parties gathered for the very last session of negotiations before Paris swept aside this major breakthrough. Of course, according to the UNFCCC legal corpus, the observers are welcome to the ADP sessions, and hundreds of them came in Bonn from all around the world for this. On the first day, all the talks were about process and no in-depth discussion really took place, so the presence of CSOs was not an issue. However, on the second day, when parties really had to get into the negotiating part of the discussion, the Japanese delegation strongly opposed letting CSOs back in. I let to your own appreciation their very diplomatic “This is not time for a show, this is time for real negotiations, that cannot happen on front of a public” pronounced in plenary session. Several developing countries tried to oppose this view, such as Malaysia, South Africa in the name of the G77, and Mexico, that reminded the other countries that “CSO are an important part of the process”. But that was not enough, as countries have the last word in this inter-governmental process, Japan’s right to have negotiations taking place behind closed doors was quickly agreed upon : “We acknowledge that this is an important matter to all parties but we have to move forward quickly in this session” (ADP Co-Chair).
A decision taken in less than 20 min
This major decision from the Parties was taken in less than 20 minutes. Now let’s come back to it. It is clear that Japan shouldn’t take all the blame, because many other countries agreed with this point of view. On the other hand, it is much more surprising and disappointing not to have heard from the European Union as it traditionally championed the cause of CSO access to the negotiations. Intel from the EU delegation told us that they took the issue seriously, but that nothing could be done claiming that they had more important matters to discuss. The topic is particularly sensitive for France, that will preside the COP21. The incoming presidency was challenged by the delegation from Venezuela, that denounced “all the beautiful statements made in international summits in Paris and New-York about the involvment of civil society”, and that consequently “all the ministers were lying”. This issue reflects the mistrust that has been growing over the week between the G77 in one side, and the developped countries and the secretariat in the other side.
Even the UNFCC secretariat, usually keen on having inclusive negotiations, turned its back on the CSOs acknowledging that “concrete negotiation cannot take place in a large room”. Of course, as C. Figueres underlined ,“these are the rules and they are not new”. Indeed, negotiators already closed the door to CSO in the previous ADP session. However, how is it possible to claim in the very next sentence that “this is not an attempt to silence [CSOs], nor to diminish transparency” ? At the end of the day, all CSOs got from the secretariat is a “shared frustration”, and a request for “understanding”.
Where is democracy in that?
Could you imagine media and observers being taken out of your national parliament because they would prevent the (elected and accountable) representatives to speak their mind out loud? Because their greatest fear is that everything they say (in the House, publicly then) will end up on twitter ? Where is democracy in that?
CSOs reacted immediately, preparing several actions with the hashtag #KeepUsInTheRoom, but their position is very uncomfortable. Indeed, transparency was sacrificed for the sake of a so-called efficiency. It is difficult for them to use negotiator’s precious time for this issue, or they will be accused of actually slowing down the talks, in addition to be self and process centered.
Yet, CSOs shouldn’t be begging for access to the negotiations. Thirty-nine parties of the UNFCCC signed the UNECE Aarhus convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. In addition, CSOs can enrich the content of the negotiations with their precious knowledge, expertise and experience. But don’t worry for the private sector representatives. With their 6-numbers budget, they will find other ways to engage the negotiators, contrary to the NGOs, that only rely on law.
Now you may ask, “Why is transparency so important? As long as we quickly get a deal”. Recent history showed us that transparency always favours environmentally friendly positions from the delegations. Clearly, it puts an ever-growing pressure on the parties that are opposed to climate-change mitigation and adaptation. Just look at the oil-producer countries. They used to publicly oppose any avancement of the climate regime. But as the process became more transparent and more open, they were isolated on the international stage. Now they have a new strategy : no more public declarations, but they started to be very obstructive in more confidential places without media coverage such as IPCC meetings. Just wonder why Japan took a stand against transparency, knowing their renewed interest for coal industry while all the other countries in the world are divesting from this carbon-intensive energy source.
Ask the Europeans and the Americans with TTIP, secret deals make bad deals. Transparency is about fairness and democracy. If the Paris agreement really is to be a major turning point in human history, it has to adopt the rules of modernity in the XXIe century, namely a transparent and inclusive decision-making process. The future generations will be grateful for that.
Photo credits : IISD
About the author: Gwenaël Podesta is a Master student in environmental economics at AgroParisTech (Université Paris Saclay). He participates in a research project at CliMates and attended the Bonn UNFCCC intersession in october along with 3 other Mates.