NGOs protest UN plan to charge for events at climate talks

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 12 June 2014 12:00 GMT

Protesters against corporate sponsors of the COP hold a banner during a mock auction to sell off the climate to the highest corporate bidder during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) at the National Stadium in Warsaw November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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Thousand-dollar cost to exhibit or hold an event "would effectively exclude many voices that cannot afford to pay," opponents say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Civil society groups at U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn have reacted angrily to a proposal from the body running the talks that they should start paying to hold events and exhibits during the sessions.

In a note dated June 2, the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat informed government delegations and other groups participating in the talks that it would introduce "a cost recovery solution" to resolve a lack of funding to organise events on the sidelines of the talks. It said that, beginning at December's U.N. climate conference in Lima, there would be a fixed, flat-rate charge of $1,000 for each side event and exhibit.

The fee would be waived for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) registered as indigenous peoples or youth groups "to safeguard their representation", it noted.

Following a meeting with the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, civil society groups issued a statement condemning the proposal, and asking for it to be put on hold while other options were considered.

"The proposed cost recovery policy would effectively exclude many voices that cannot afford to pay the new costs, and threaten the credibility and legitimacy as well as mutual trust that has been established within this process. It would also undermine our ability to share diverse views and to present current research and innovative solutions to this complex problem (of climate change)," said the statement on behalf of business, research and green groups, indigenous people, women, trade unions, local government and municipal authorities, farmers and youth.

In response, the U.N. climate change secretariat presented two alternative proposals at a meeting with some 35 to 40 civil society groups on Wednesday. 

The first is a system under which time slots, space and equipment would be allocated to NGOs to divide among themselves. The second is what a U.N. spokesperson described as a free, "no frills" service, where the volume of events and exhibits would be cut by up to 50 percent, and no changes could be made to reservations handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. 

"What we're talking about here is how do you manage a booking service?" said Nick Nuttall, communications coordinator for the U.N. climate change secretariat. "In the past with the sheer volume of side events and exhibits, the small number of staff here at the UNFCCC have literally been on their knees, and it's not been very healthy for them at all."

At the Warsaw talks last year, there were around 175 official side events dealing with issues such as women's access to climate finance, the costs of natural disasters, how to make a new global climate deal more equitable, cutting emissions from farming, and insurance against climate risks.

Nuttall said the "phenomenal growth" in the number of side events and exhibits over the years was a good thing, but "we just can't sustain the service we are providing with the resources we have at our disposal".

‘STRUGGLING FOR SPACE’

Tasneem Essop of green group WWF slammed the cost recovery idea as "another additional step that is starting to squeeze civil society out of these processes". Climate Action Network (CAN) International, a coalition of civil society groups, has rejected the proposals, calling the decision “a matter of principle", Essop told journalists.

The UNFCCC is due to hold a further meeting on Friday to discuss the three proposals again with NGOs. Harjeet Singh of the international development charity ActionAid said they should have been given more time to reflect and consult on the options.

"It is the responsibility of the U.N. system to ensure that the most vulnerable and civil society continue to influence the policy making," he said. "Money should not determine whose voices will be heard."

Singh told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the Peruvian delegation, which is organising the climate conference at the end of this year, had been concerned by the initial proposal to recover costs of holding side events and exhibits.

At the Warsaw talks in 2013, NGOs were unable to demonstrate freely on the streets, nor find enough space to air their views inside the conference halls, Singh said. This was a key reason, together with the lack of progress in the talks, behind a mass walkout of civil society groups from the meeting in Poland, he added.

"We have been struggling to find space," he said.

WWF's Essop pointed to a separate move at the Bonn discussions to limit the number of civil society observers in each meeting.

"We come here with a global voice. We are here to hold governments accountable for their actions and decisions, and to go back home to share with our citizens what is going on. We also have proposals and solutions to offer in terms of the agreements that need to be reached to deal with the urgency of climate change," she said. "So putting civil society in the position where that engagement, that voice is slowly being shut down is a problem."

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