Friday, December 3, 2010

Cancún climate change summit 'excludes poor countries' say activists

Cancún climate change conference: pressure group UNfairplay finds that poorer nations have no access to translation of 'opaque' talks and cannot afford to send enough delegates

John Vidal
Friday 3 December 2010

Cancún climate change summit: 'Respect the indigenous
 peoples rights' say protesters.
Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
The UN climate negotiations are weighted heavily against the poorest countries, who cannot send delegates to key meetings, often do not understand what is being said and are unable keep up with the decisions being taken in their name, a report by an NGO that promotes fairness in the negotiations has found.

While rich countries have sent more than 150 delegates each to Cancún, more than half of the countries in the world have fewer than five representatives, with 26 countries having only one or two. For every 100m people living in Africa there are three negotiators - the equivalent figure for the EU is 6.4.

According to the report, based on research by campaign group UNfairplay, countries must be at as many as six meetings at the same time to follow the talks which are "cryptic", "untransparent" and "opaque".

Thirty countries, including many of the poorest, have sent no one to what have been called "the most complex negotiations ever attempted" – although some developing nations did send large delegations.

The report found that Brazil sent 591, Indonesia 162, Nigeria 175 and South Africa 199. The UK and US sent 48 and 155 delegates respectively.

"The whole enterprise has become so vast that to stay on top [of the different strands] is a struggle even for professionals," say the authors.

Even with six official UN languages, many delegates are having to follow complex legal and scientific arguments in their third or fourth languages. In addition, key documents are published in English first and are not translated into other languages until much later.

"Some delegates only understand around 60% of what is said, and are not able to express their ideas in English at all," said one respondent.

"Where is the translation of what they are saying into the 86 languages of the Solomon islands?" said another, ironically.

Questionnaires found delegates complaining widely that as meetings have proliferated, they have no time to assimilate information. While rich countries have access to experts, the poorest countries cannot take part fully in the talks because they had no negotiating skills or knowledge of essential international law.

And because there are no transcripts of official meetings, say the authors, there is no effective way of assessing what is said in negotiations. "Delegates cannot hold each other accountable verbatim."

The authors recommend that the UN conducts an in-depth investigation into how inequalities in the climate talks can be and that money be found to help under-represented nations send more people.

According to the report – which based its figures on the delegate list for the talks – the UK has sent 48 delegates, the US has sent 155, Japan 114, Mexico 119, Nigeria 175, Republic of Korea 111, South Africa 199, EU 102, Pakistan 50 and Bangladesh 97.

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