UN drops plan to charge for events at climate talks

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 July 2014 15:30 GMT

After an outcry that a $1,000-per-event fee would exclude the voices of the poor, UN climate secretariat backs down

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -  The United Nations Climate Change Secretariat has withdrawn a plan to start charging non-governmental organisations and other groups to hold events and exhibits on the sidelines of U.N. climate negotiations, after protests the move might exclude the voices of the poor.

At talks in Bonn last month, the secretariat announced it would begin charging a fixed, flat-rate fee of $1,000 for each side event and exhibit beginning at December's U.N. climate conference in Lima.

But in response to opposition from a range of government delegations and climate change campaign groups, the secretariat backed down on June 30, and said it would continue to facilitate the events and exhibits "using existing resources" - a decision welcomed by civil society.

In a public note, the secretariat said discussions at the Bonn meeting around the proposal had made clear that "a cost recovery plan places too much burden on participants".

The rapid expansion in events and exhibits - with the average number of annual applications quadrupling over the past six years compared to the preceding decade - has put increasing pressure on the secretariat staff charged with handling them.

At the 2013 Warsaw conference, for example, there were about 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 agricultural emissions and insurance against climate risks.

The note from the secretariat suggested that working within existing resources "may mean reduction of services", without giving details.

"We will try and accommodate as many side events as we can within the limits of our human and financial resources," Nick Nuttall, communications coordinator for the secretariat, said by email. The final number of events at the next annual conference in Lima in December will also be based on consideration of the space available at the venue, he added.

There are concerns the conference centre in Peru may be too small for the 12,000 or so delegates who flock to the talks - a number that is likely to rise as interest grows ahead of the 2015 deadline for a new global climate deal. 

GOVERNMENTS TO FUND?

Development and green NGOs applauded the withdrawal of the cost recovery plan.

"I am glad sense prevailed, and the U.N. has recognised its responsibility to ensure that all voices, particularly of the weaker sections (of society), are heard in these conferences," said Harjeet Singh of the international charity ActionAid. "It is the voices of poor communities and civil society that add soul to these climate talks...let's not commercialise this space."

Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network International, said civil society groups were upset by the initial decision to institute fees without consultation, but now the process of working out a solution together had been "rebooted".

"If we really are a key part of the climate talks, and governments value us, then the team at the secretariat that works with civil society needs to be well-resourced," he argued. Funding for organising side events and exhibits should be made part of the secretariat's core budget when it next comes up for negotiation in June 2015, he added.

The note from the secretariat did not directly call on governments, often referred to as "parties", to put up more money to pay for management of side events. But it expressed hope that "a longer-term solution can be found soon now that Parties are aware of the importance of a robust side event and exhibit system".

ActionAid's Singh said an alternative proposal for NGOs to help with running the events had not gained traction because they also lacked the logistical capacity to do so, and preferred to have a "neutral facilitator".

But he identified scope for events with similar themes to be merged together to reduce the demands, adding that NGO networks working together on issues could support this.

The secretariat, meanwhile, said it "looked forward to welcoming observers in these essential activities alongside the negotiating process as contributors towards an ambitious outcome in 2015".

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