GLOBAL: Not quite “Hopenhagen”?

Photo: Euan Denholm/IRIN
Uganda is also caught in a cycle of droughts set to become more intense because of climate change

COPENHAGEN, 17 December 2009 (IRIN) – When you are a small NGO from a poor country in the South, how can you hope to make yourself heard at the climate change talks in Copenhagen? One answer is to get more influential NGOs in the North to do it for you – engaging public opinion and urging their governments to help the vulnerable cope with the increasingly erratic weather.

As the Copenhagen conference nears its end, IRIN takes a behind-the-scenes look at the strategizing and manoeuvrings, the highs and lows that an NGO from Uganda – the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) – has experienced in the past few days.

A few years ago, NAPE’s Kamese Geoffrey would never have imagined sharing tables with government ministers from his country. “But things have changed at this conference; our countries in Africa face a desperate situation, they need all the support they can get,” he said.

When not lobbying for support for poor countries, whenever his government called on him he provided feedback and assistance on policy adaptation, and the REDD strategy – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and (forest) Degradation (in developing countries) – which looked like being one of the positive outcomes from Copenhagen, until earlier this week.

The first week

Geoffrey has friends and relatives who are still recovering from a drought in the Acholi and Teso regions in northern Uganda, after experiencing one of the area’s worst floods in 2008. “You come into this conference with a lot of hope, thinking, ‘We will all sit here and come up with a strategy to help all those people back home, maybe give them some tools to be better able to adapt to this cycle of droughts and floods.’”

Hope has been steadily evaporating. Braving the bitter cold weather, some NGOs began the first week of the talks on 7 December determined to be optimistic about “Hopenhagen” – the International Advertising Association’s line for the conference.

But then African countries started taking Geoffrey’s NGO and others into their confidence, telling them the European Union had put on the table an offer of just more than US$10 billion annually over the next three years for adaptation. “The Sudanese ambassador, Lumumba Di-Aping, called us and said, ‘What do we do about this?’ The money is nothing compared to what some estimates, like the World Bank, have said poor countries would need, which is more than $100 billion a year,” Geoffrey said.

“This was unacceptable, so we got in touch with the NGOs from the North, who have good relations with their governments, to try to influence them. We all got in touch with international NGOs, who instantly issued statements to criticize the amount of money being pledged. We had press briefings, so we managed to mobilize a lot of support.”

Geoffrey has also been attending sessions on the adaptation track of the text that is the basis for negotiations. “It has been depressing. There are some countries who think they are going to do us a favour by helping the poor countries, but this is really about helping all of us – everyone is going to be affected by climate change.” Sea level rise, intense and frequent droughts and storms, and erratic rainfall brought on by a changing global climate will affect countries in the North as much as in the South.

Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
Aftermath of tropical storm Ketsana, Philippines

“You cannot say all the countries in the North are the same. I have delegates from rich countries come up to me and ask me about the situation in my country, but maybe not all of them give voice to their concerns because they are worried about the collective position, so you also have countries presenting their own positions on issues.”

Final week

The situation got stickier. The conference organizers – the Danish government – imposed a quota on the number of NGOs attending because the venue could not handle more than 15,000 people. “Our government [Uganda] has expressed support for us in private, saying they will miss all the support … we have been like the cheering crowd who makes a tired athlete push to do his best in the last leg of his run,” Geoffrey commented.

Efforts to get money for adaptation were still stuck, as were various promises regarding capacity building and technology transfer to help countries adapt. Protestors, demanding a greater commitment from the wealthy world, clashed with police on Wednesday as the talks sank into further acrimony.

The hope of getting a good deal on REDD, a strategy for compensating countries for conserving their forests, swamps and fields, were dashed when two countries intervened, weakening the language on protecting the rights of forest-dependent communities.

Geoffrey cited the case of the Benet, an indigenous community who used to live on Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda, but were displaced to make way for an afforestation project. His country representatives at the conference summoned him to express their concern, so Geoffrey got in touch with the Global Forest Coalition – an international network of NGOs working on forestry-related issues – and together they called a press conference to spread the word.

He said there was a lot of solidarity among civil society organizations across the world, and hoped this could perhaps influence governments. “But our hopes are continuously being shattered here.”

Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swept into town. With the talks deadlocked and less than 36 hours to go before the end of the conference, she announced on Thursday that the US, along with the other rich countries, would be willing to mobilize $100 billion a year “from a wide variety” of resources to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Geoffrey responded cautiously to Clinton’s offer: “It seems to be a positive move, but we have to see where the money is going to come from”, a reference to NGO and poor country government demands that aid for adaptation should be new money, and not raised from the “unpredictable” market.



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