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Climate change after Bali: whither Bangladesh? PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 February 2008

Saleemul Huq

The recently-completed thirteenth Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2007, has laid out a Bali Roadmap which sets a deadline of December 2009 when the fifteenth conference will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark to agree on the next phase of the global climate change regime (commonly referred to as the post-Kyoto or post-2012 regime).

This means that there is only a relatively short window of less than two years to complete some very hard negotiations amongst nearly two hundred countries that are signatories to the convention.

There is now widespread agreement amongst the politicians, media and general public both in Bangladesh and globally about Bangladesh's position as one of the most vulnerable nations amongst the least developed countries to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Thus, the agreement that will be agreed in Copenhagen in December 2009 has grave consequences for the future welfare of the people of Bangladesh. It is, therefore, essential that Bangladesh pay serious attention to following and, even more importantly, playing a significant part in these upcoming negotiations as they move into a very intensive phase at the international level.

So far Bangladesh has participated in all the UNFCCC negotiations and has occasionally played a significant role at certain meetings. For example, Bangladesh was elected by the LDC group to chair the group from 2004 to 2006 (the chair of the group is currently the Maldives).

However, such success has been somewhat hit-and-miss, and lacking in consistency. Bangladesh has a number of significant assets including engaged and capable political leaders, knowledgeable experts both within and outside the government and a very active NGO movement (who can play a role in advocacy to influence negotiations).

It is now time to build on these assets and raise Bangladeshs game in the international negotiation process if we hope to have our views taken into account in the final outcome in Copenhagen in December 2009. Some ways in which these can be achieved are outlined briefly below. The first thing to understand is how the international negotiations on climate change happens in reality in order to influence it effectively.

The UNFCCC is one of a number multilateral environmental agreements agreed in 1992 under the auspices of the United Nations. Thus, the basic document on the basis of which further negotiations takes place, such as at the annual COPs which are usually held in a different country (e.g. in 2007 it was in Indonesia, this year it will be in Poland and in 2009 will be in Denmark).

These annual meetings are held over two weeks, which are attended by government representatives at the technical level in the first week and the ministerial level in the second week. In addition to this annual meeting at the ministerial (or high) level, there is also a second meeting, at the technical level only, each year in June held in Bonn, Germany (where the UNFCCC Secretariat is located).

Incidentally, in the run-up from Bali to Copenhagen there is likely to be an additional two more meetings this year and next. This means that the pace of international negotiations will become extremely intense from now to December 2009. It will, therefore, be necessary for Bangladesh to have a team of negotiators capable of following and participating in these negotiations, as missing a meeting can mean losing an important issue by default.

The second aspect of the international negotiations is that the only country in the world that is powerful enough to negotiate on its own is the United States of America, the world's superpower. All other countries, even rich ones like Germany or Britain, have to join like-minded groups to negotiate as a group collectively.

Thus, for example, Germany and Britain negotiate as part of the European Union. Similarly, for a poor country like Bangladesh, which belongs to the larger group of all developing countries, numbering over 130 countries, which is known as the Group of 77 and China (G77 + China) which has a number of subgroups, including the LDC group consisting of fifty of the world's poorest countries, most of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, Bangladesh needs to work within the LDC group and ensure that the group itself becomes more effective, working together.

One of the major problems faced by the LDCs including Bangladesh is the lack of human resources available to participate effectively in the negotiations. Thus, the LDCs can usually only afford to send one technical person (for the full two weeks of the COPs) and one minister for the second week, compared to hundreds of delegates in the US or EU delegations.

One reason why this lack of human resources is such a handicap is that after the first plenary session, the meetings break up into a number of parallel sessions (numbering over twenty in Bali) for the different agenda items which need to be negotiated.

Thus, for a single delegate from a country, it then becomes impossible to follow all the agenda items. However, as there are nearly fifty LDCs, having a common view and interests in the negotiations, they can be a sizeable delegation, provided they act together as a team.

It took the LDC group a number of years after signing the UNFCCC before they managed to form a negotiating group, which they did at COP6 in Hague, the Netherlands in 2000. By COP7 in Marrakech, Morocco they were able to get agreement on setting up a special fund for the LDCs (called the LDC Fund) to help them with issues related to adaptation. This LDC Fund was given to the Global Environment Facility to manage and was provided with funding on a voluntary basis by the rich countries.

The initial funds were provided to all the LDCs to carry out national adaptation plans of action following a common methodology. In the context of the negotiations, this initial (albeit relatively small) success by the LDC group led to an enhancement of the groups team dynamic and the LDC group has continued to improve its team spirit over the subsequent years.

The chair of the group rotates every two years and the country that is elected to chair the group is based on the individual delegation and their members performance in the negotiations and ability to gain confidence of other LDC delegations. It is to the credit of the individual members of the Bangladesh delegation during the period of COP9 in Milan, Italy in 2004 and COP10 Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2005 that Bangladesh was elected the chair of the LDC group for the period of 2005 to 2006.

This raises another important determinant of the success in the international negotiations, namely the capability and continuity of the individual negotiators. It is often not realised that individuals (and their capacities and ability to gain the confidence of other delegations) can play an inordinately important role in negotiations, which can be out of proportion to the countrys poverty level.

The problem for Bangladesh, as in many other LDCs, is that the same individual is seldom sent to the negotiations each year (sometimes it is even a negative as it is seen as some one elses turn to go). This lack of continuity in the UNFCCC process is a major handicap and will need to be addressed urgently by Bangladesh.

This is particularly critical for playing a leadership role within any group (such as the LDCs) as the other delegates must first get to know the Bangladeshi delegate and then recognise his (or her) capacity to lead the group. This takes at least two or three years to achieve.

One other significant aspect of the international negotiations is the role of media and non-governmental advocacy groups who can shape the official negotiations (which involves governments only) by their inputs and advocacy activities. The NGO community has been particularly effective as an advocacy group operating under the banner of the Climate Action Network which has grown over time and now numbers several hundred NGOs (there were over 5,000 NGO observers in Bali). In the case of Bangladesh the demands of the government and NGOs are virtually identical, so it makes sense for the Bangladeshi government and NGOs to work together.

To give credit to the government, they have increasingly invited the NGOs to work together with the government delegation. Indeed in Bali a large number of Bangladeshi NGOs were included in the official Bangladeshi government delegation. This spirit of cooperation between government as well as NGOs needs to become more effective in future. The final significant aspect of the negotiations is the technical aspects of the subject matter being addressed in the different agenda issues being negotiated.

Here, it is necessary to have expertise and knowledge about the technical aspects of different agenda items and to prepare the delegation members well before going to the negotiations. On this aspect, the most relevant technical issues for Bangladesh (and the LDCs) is the issue of adaptation to deal with the potential adverse impacts of climate change and specifically the agenda items revolving around funding adaptation in developing countries. Bangladesh is fortunate to have considerable expertise on such technical issues including four lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which recently received the Nobel Prize, as well as others.

Drawing on such national experts the Bangladesh government delegation to the international meetings can prepare itself for the different technical aspects of the forthcoming negotiations. Based on the above mentioned aspects of the negotiating process and dynamics, here are some things for the Bangladeshi government to consider to build on the experience and capacities in the country and focus them on ensuring a positive outcome in the UNFCCC on the road from Bali to Copenhagen in December 2009.

The lead negotiator (at the non-ministerial level) of the country should be designated now and kept in that position for all the forthcoming negotiations. The skills needed for such a lead negotiator are not technical but rather ones of international diplomacy, particularly at the UN level. Thus, the type of person most appropriate would be a senior (or even recently retired) diplomat having been posted at the UN (either in New York or Geneva) and familiar with UN processes.

Given the almost full-time nature of the international negotiations from now to December 2009, it may be worth appointing a full time special envoy for climate change. The lead negotiator should be supplemented, in the Bangladesh delegation to each meeting, by supporting officials, technical, experts and NGO representatives.

This means finding the resources to send a reasonably sizeable team (however, it is not the quantity of people that matter as much as the quality). Prior to the team going to the negotiations they need to be fully briefed, by the experts, on the technical issues and also consult with the NGOs.

Thus, the delegation must do their homework before they go to any international meeting arming themselves both with knowledge as well as a negotiating mandate. There needs to be high-level political involvement and buy-in by senior policymakers on the Bangladeshi position prior to sending the delegation. This requires the involvement of key ministers including of environment and foreign affairs.

It may even need input and involvement of the head of state. The Bangladesh government delegation needs to liaise and work closely with the Bangladeshi NGOs going to the meeting as the NGOs can make the same demands as the government in the NGO groups, such as within CAN as well as with the media.

The minister who goes to the second (high level) week of the COP needs to be well-briefed and knowledgeable about the negotiating process. A widespread misapprehension amongst some ministers is that they are going to give a speech at the meeting and that the most important activity for all the other members of the delegation is to help write his speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ministers speeches are one of the least important inputs to the meeting and almost never influence the ongoing negotiating.

On the contrary, very often, while 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 technical negotiator out of this ongoing negotiation process the ministers presence can actually have a negative outcome on his countrys interests in the negotiations.

The negotiation process can be compared to a big passenger ship with many rooms and activities going on at the same time, with every one discussing which direction the ship should go forward. One of these rooms contains the ministers giving their speeches.

While all this is going on, a small number of delegates, from a few countries (normally selected on the basis of the recognised skills and capacities of the individual negotiators) are invited into the bridge of the ship and make the real decisions on which way to steer the ship. If Bangladesh (and its lead negotiator) fails to be invited on to the bridge, no amount of Ministerial speeches in the plenary hall will make any difference.

Finally, the government of Bangladesh, as well as experts, NGOs and others need to use their respective channels to raise issues of concern to us in the global media. Here, we need to cash in on the strong media interest in Bangladesh on the issue of climate change, as almost everyone recognises Bangladesh as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Although this is bad news for Bangladesh in reality, the silver lining is that the global media is quite interested in knowing Bangladeshs opinions and views. This is an opportunity that needs to be exploited intelligently. Saleemul Huq is head of the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development, United Kingdom, and may be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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