But are we really? We have been so limited that I wonder if we really are here. The first three days of the conference can be described in a few words:
Inaction, Redundancy, and Frustration.
Here we are. Civil Society, the people supposed to be represented by our negotiators, fighting to be heard. While the opening sessions of the conference have been extremely lackluster, we know that there is much to be explored behind closed doors. This is my third United Nations Climate Change Negotiations, also called the Conference of Parties (COP) and this is the first time that I have been denied access to smaller text negotiations out right the first week of the conference. The norm, though not much better, is that since the close-editing of text is done in smaller rooms is that members of negotiating parties are allowed to go into the rooms first and then civil society is allowed to filter in as space is available. In the past two years, this has led to many hours of sitting on the floor outside of meetings rooms with other members of civil society talking, scheming, dreaming of just being on the other side of the walls we’re leaning on and taking the mic to tell the room what they need to do. This year- we are downright turned away and sometimes even told to leave rooms that we are waiting in.
To my understanding, constituencies have been radically restructured by the Secretariat (the governing body of the UNFCCC) over the past few years. This change is to the point where unless you have a good relationship with them or you don’t ruffle their feathers, you will not be granted the privilege to have your assigned 2 minutes to speak in negotiations (called interventions) or to do an action (which must be sanctioned and all messages on banners and signs approved or you will be ejected from the conference).
This is a space where our voices, as the constituents of our representatives, are supposed to be heard. Instead, we are put into boxes (our meeting spaces) that are out of the way (near the exit, I might add). There needs to be a way to change how we operate in the space.
So- if nothing is happening then why are we here? Well, we have to be is the simple answer. If we do not go the conference then we will not know what is actually happening. We all know how the media slants what is happening in the world and by having civil society on the ground then we are able to counter those narratives. The main reason, in my opinion, that I keep coming back is that this is the only place we currently have to talk about global agreements to address climate change.
But, just because it is the only space we haven’t doesn’t mean that it’s functional (which has been made very apparent the lack of progress since 1992). We are increasingly focusing our time on how we need to change the way we work within the conference space instead of how to make change in the world. The way things work in this space it is essentially the same thing, though. If we don’t iron out how to get things done in the COP, then we cannot bring our voices to the international level.
We, as civil society, need to stop being formed into mini-negotiators who are so worried about pleasing the secretariat. We need to unite and do more like the civil society walk out in Warsaw. Nothing has gotten better since then and yet we’re still sitting here watching the negotiations unfold without our consent.
We need to follow through with #volveremos. #estamosaqui needs to resound through all of the meeting rooms.