If you’ve read any of the other posts on adoptanegotiator recently, you already know what it’s like inside this high ceiling stadium of sustainable development negotiations. Now, I want to take you inside…right inside the negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals that crawled along this morning.
As you might already expect, people never actually say Sustainable Development Goals; they say SDG’s. UN negotiators are sadly inflicted with acronymonia; a highly infectious disease which causes involuntary acronym use. It might not be officially recognized in the latest DSM V, but I personally think it’s somewhat of a second cousin to Tourette Syndrome.
Anyway, let’s go inside this morning’s negotiation session or ‘splinter group’ on the SDG’s. The room is surrounded by a rectangular table with a big hole in the middle (somewhat of a metaphor for UN policies). Negotiators sit atop the table. Civil society crawls, cradles, stands and crosses their legs behind.
The discussions were headed up by a facilitator known as a ‘chair’. In this case, the chair was from Grenada. He added a deep, but playful accent to the negotiations this morning, pronouncing words like ‘diciishon maaykin’ in ways that took me straight back to the Caribbean. If only momentarily.
His musical articulations were accompanied by the passion of Pakistan and Nigeria, the political precision of Norway and Switzerland, and the pretty relaxed reflections of Australia and New Zealand. All of these countries speak with the eccentricities of their respective negotiators, but they also speak on behalf of much bigger negotiating blocks.
This morning, it seemed like Pakistan wanted to play the bad guy blocking progress, but in reality Pakistan was speaking on behalf of a much larger contingent of the G77 – which now is almost twice that size. When they speak, they do so on behalf of a pre-determined political position that has been agreed upon by all of those countries. So too do all of the other nations. Sometimes it’s obvious, but at other times it’s a matter of reading between the lines at the coffee shop.
Switzerland was speaking on behalf of the EU. While we keep being assured that this isn’t a UN climate negotiation, so far it seems that the same alliances and camaraderie’s keep popping up, and it’s only the first morning.
There were 3 key points open for discussion. The first was around the creation of a global sustainable development report to monitor the SDG’s. To some, like the EU, Canada, Norway, the US and Japan, this seemed like a fairly straightforward idea. Pakistan and the G77 just thought “we don’t need it!”
The way the discussions played out unveiled that there was a lot more on the table than a report. Pakistan was very keen to encourage national monitoring and diversification, but felt that a global report would only represent a point of negative comparison. It would categorize countries and make many G77 members look bad, when they might otherwise be doing well if the categories of success were changed. So there was little progress on that.
The next point was relating to seeing beyond GDP as a measure of development. Here again the EU stated that they were “very attached to the paragraph” as if it represented a childhood plaything. However they assured everyone that “we are not dogmatic on this…we are relatively flexible on where the paragraph sits”. This discussion then developed into a series of statements all affirming that the paragraph’s power would change dramatically as a result of its placement. They spoke as if the paragraphs placement was more important than the actual content. And after a number of EU statements affirming the paragraph’s mobility, Pakistan came in and drove right over it:
“I think the only consensus we have is that the paragraph doesn’t belong. But there is no consensus on anything else. We don’t think it belongs anywhere”.
This is fair enough. It is a big issue that academics and politicians alike are constantly arguing over. Rushing through it would be nice, but it is also extremely complicated.
It was at this point, the chair highlighted the power of minorities within the UN negotiation process personally pleading:
“Farooq, I know that you can tie my hands, and I don’t suppose you do, but…”
In the end, that ‘but’ was too hard to overcome, even after Australia and New Zealand offered calmly presented compromises that were gladly received. In the end, there was relatively little progress on this issue in terms of policy and procedure. But it’s only the first morning, and there are many midnight oils left to burn.
Finally, the discussions turned to implementing the SDG’s in the context of the Millenium Development Goals…or, as you guessed it, the MDG’s. Here most discussions began in a similar manner to those outlined in statement drafting 101, but again, similar grievances and coalitions cut lines in the sand and swore not to cross. But it was also when the micro-politics of a cough came to the fore!
Chair – looking over to the EU and US delegates: “I think we have seen some really constructive progress on SDG’s”
Pakistan – sitting on the other side of the room: (Cough!!)
Chair in rapid reply: “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you”
WoW! I thought, in a slightly geeky, UN meets post-modernism kind of way.
In that one cough, more was said about UN negotiations than I could possibly explain. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this cough was worth a million. As a microcosm of UN processes it managed to capture all the power, political inequality and silo-positioning that goes on in these types of events.
In the future, I can’t imagine many more micro-analyses of individual UN meetings. It is much more interesting to think of these processes as a whole, and to incorporate individual interactions within the context of greater political movements, coffee line conversations and silo shuffles.
But I was hoping to paint an introductory picture of what it’s been like inside the splinter negotiations this morning. From memory, they have been much the same as the UN climate negotiations.
I guess you can take the negotiators out of the COP, but you can’t take the COP out of the negotiations. The word Durban was mistakenly even used 3 time!
But there was something about this cough. Something that I think says more than I ever could.
Welcome inside Rio+20.
About the authorChris Wright
Climate researcher, political ecologist, activist and an award-winning slam poet from Australia.