Durban – Is someone missing from the negotiation table?

Ian_Noble As international climate talks commence this week, governments will call on the private sector to increase contributions to climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. The Global Adaptation Institute’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Ian Noble, argues that climate negotiators  should seek greater input from those businesses, large and small, from which they seek support. 

Tens of thousands of delegates are gathered in Durban for the 17th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (CoP17).  Most are observers of the process and unlikely to ever come near the negotiating rooms.  A thousand or so will represent the 194 governments of which a few will sit behind the microphones to negotiate mostly in closed rooms and occasionally in public.  Their task will be to take the texts agreed to in Cancun forward to the next stage.

That text includes numerous references to the role of the private sector.  It is recognized as a stakeholder and called upon to support enhanced action on adaptation and mitigation, provide funds, perform research, transfer technology and collaborate and advise.   But the understanding of how these roles may be fulfilled is sketchy to say the least.

Few of those behind the microphones will be from, or will have had experience in, the private sector.  Many delegations include private sector representatives, but this is largely confined to developed countries.  The private sector will be present as observers and some representative organizations will occasionally be allowed an intervention but usually at the end of the debate on a particular issue.

The private sector is active in organizing events on the side of the negotiations, often attended by senior, well-informed audiences – but by few negotiators who are too busy elsewhere.

The situation is made worse by a suspicion of the private sector by many of the G77 countries who fear that wider private sector engagement may divert finances, bypassing the priorities and oversight of national governments.

For adaptation goals, the paucity of contact between the negotiators and the private sector is particularly troublesome.  Private enterprises, from small farmers to multinationals, have much to loose from inadequate adaptation and their losses flow on to everyone. Their investment in protecting assets or pursuing new business opportunities related to climate change will be the core of our adaptation response.  But the private sector itself is struggling to interpret its role and the expectations flowing from the negotiating text.

What can be done to achieve a real dialogue between the negotiators and the private sector within the UNFCCC framework?  National delegations would be reluctant to give up the negotiating microphone to private sector representatives, and delegations from smaller countries can rarely afford to include extra representatives within their delegations.  Representative private sector institutions could be given a full negotiating role, but some parties would be reluctant to see this happen, and it would be followed by the rightful demands for similar access by NGOs and a multitude of special interest groups.

A more feasible approach is to increase the contact between negotiators and the private sectors outside of the formal negotiations per se.  These would include special workshops and also the ‘informals’ that are usually held between selected sets of governments.  But this would further undermine the role of the UNFCCC in achieving an effective response to the challenges of climate change and shift the balance to other fora that have established ways of better engaging their full range of stakeholders.