Importance of Civil Society in-person involvement in Durban Climate Negotiations:

I was a finalist in a UNDP speech writing contest for the UN Secretary General in 1990. This led to becoming a youth delegate who helped craft UNFCCC, Agenda 21, and Rio Declaration text. I was in a position to engage in this early public participation by commuting an hour by train into the headquarters of the UN in NYC. Fortunately, other perspectives were woven into the text as well – voices from people who had to travel much further to join round the clock writing sessions. The International Law Commission has drafted excellent international treaty language as has IUCN. In the climate context the process has been one of government delegates meeting with stakeholders in bi-laterals and then bringing these insights into the consensus building process with other governments. Climate change continues to challenge existing governance structures in its complexity and need for urgent cooperation. I have helped organized climate negotiation events / presentations for UNICEF, NWF, UNEP, and IUCN. Bali was as uncomfortably hot as Copenhagen was uncomfortably cold. Security has been a worry in a number of settings. Many of us have not slept more than 1-3 hours a night since we arrived in Durban. Whether forming climate partnerships, presenting shared findings, offering new text or seeking the removal of text – people are engaged in the real work of building international law and diplomacy. It is one of the most concentrated (1) access to information (2) public participation (3) access to justice forums to date. Individuals have not been subjects at international law that long. The Arab Spring has shown just how powerful both online and in-person involvement in governance has become. I am hopeful that we can continue to create effective legal space for civil society and representative governments to work together rather than talk past one another.

In traditional African culture, people gather in an Indaba to listen to one another and find a common story that can resolve disputes. Ecosystem based climate resilience may be emerging as the shared story, or in Bali roadmap language the shared vision. This morning’s gathering on women and climate brought Mary Robinson’s climate justice movement together with grass routes initiatives from around the globe to carry forward Wangari Mathai’s message that “we must not tire or give up – we must persist.” I worked with Wangari’s daughters in-person (and Wangari remotely) and continue to be informed by that experience in my teaching, writing, and service.

One of the most difficult aspects of climate consensus building involves the lack of an international legal response to climate migration. Durban is not a safe place to walk at night in part due to how many migrants are sleeping on the streets. Migration strains community capacity irrespective of the reasons for migrants to relocate. Rushing to my IUCN delegation meeting this morning, I passed a homeless boy who stuffed a blanket down a manhole in the street and dashed under a bush. Another boy had built a sand castle of sorts on the beach – in the form of a rhino with the message “stop poaching.” He sought a few coins from tourists interested in a photo. Thoreau challenged us to put foundations under our castles in the sky. This process may look like the tower of babel to some but to others it represents a best practice for good governance. Rachel Carson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, André Brink and even several recent documentaries demonstrate that sometimes the arts can be more powerful than traditional politics. I was reminded of this listening to Johnny Clegg give a moving concert (to be in South Africa, standing shoulder to shoulder with black and white South Africans singing anti-apartheid lyrics was overpowering). It is more comfortable to watch a documentary of South African township poverty than to be outside of one’s comfort zone supporting villagers in transitioning to renewable energy, rainwater harvesting, and low till planting. A flood several days ago washed away part of the village but it was important for these villagers to share their green building efforts with us in-person. It is hard to describe how in-person inter-racial, inter-cultural, inter-generational interaction builds the trust with which to commit to shared responsibilities.

I remain haunted by the cruelty of Apartheid era South Africa and in awe of the humanity of Bram Fischer. Countless nameless youth gave their lives to speak truth to power. Writing Amnesty International Urgent Action letters to the South African Government in the late 80s, I never would have envisioned myself in South Africa at all – let alone working side by side with rag pickers from Calcutta, renewable energy inventors from Africa, youth delegates from China, state ministers from Pakistan, Germany, Korea, Mexico, etc. I am sure these thoughts would be more coherent if I had been able to sleep more than 6 hours in the past week. Whether my work as a “Legal Expert” for the IUCN Delegation offsets my travel or not, those of us here are doing our personal best to optimize learning, teaching, mentoring – in short “being the change we wish to see in the world” as Gandhi once said. Filming positive grass roots projects such as the Cato Manor shanty-town I just returned from can help raise awareness that green building can be done at all scales. Law review articles reach an important but limited audience, if for no other reason then because the digital divide continues to grow. Engaged scholarship, teaching and service means different things to different people. I am reminded of Dean Shield’s call to speak truth to power at the Vermont scholarship workshop this past September. The powerful and disenfranchised are rarely more engaged with one another than here in Durban.

While we still struggle to agree on what constitutes a timely and robust response to climate destabilization, the topic of innovation is providing common ground upon which to build multilateral trust. I have been involved in “technology executive committee” and “technology center and network” discussions. This has involved four different tracks of negotiations. Technology mechanism governance and financing has been pushed up to ministerial level discussions. I am hopeful that Durban will succeed in providing a framework for innovation hubs yet I remain mindful that current text does not include mention of “environmentally sound” technology transfer. Life cycle analysis, capacity building, and cultural sensitivity remain open issues. That said, it appears likely that knowledge portals will become a reality and that best practices may be more easily shared through on-line uploading/downloading of innovations (including rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, and culturally sound solar cookers.) In addition to online clearinghouse capacity building, I hope to see a network of innovation centers to facilitate diffusion of climate friendly innovations. The amalgamation draft text can help close the 6-11 gigaton(ne) greenhouse gas gap. Germany has just pledged 40 million euros and Denmark 15 million euros toward the Green Climate Fund (GCF). We are still debating bracketed text and trying to raise ambition for resilient and sustainable societies. We are trying to share articulate insights to achieve a near term peak year and long-term goals. A comprehensive, fair, ambitious and binding agreement remains elusive but operationalizing the GCF and technology mechanism are within political reach.

Last Year I wrote: “Slow negotiations are creeping forward regarding a new Climate Technology Mechanism, Technology Secretariat, Technology Fund, and a Technology Clearinghouse. I have spoken with World Bank, German, Japanese, G77+China, and a range of other state party, inter-governmental and non-governmental delegates on effort underway in Cancun to removing bracketed language from the negotiating text. The emerging picture is one of retaining good will by postponing controversy. It remains to be seen to what degree technology transfer commitments will emerge as confidence building measures. Finance and technology transfer have been split, leaving many concerned about the means by which innovation and diffusion of environmentally sound technology may come about. Little discussion of the TRIPS / UNFCCC nexus has occurred here or elsewhere.”

Taking stock of the negotiations is worthwhile. The major media representatives here in Durban note that their stories are being eclipsed by other stories deemed more newsworthy. Just as members of civil society have been instrumental as election monitors around the globe, ordinary people with a wide array of stakes are contributing to emerging international law.

With great respect,

Elizabeth (Betsy)

P.S. I will be off-line for several days but would be happy to respond to folks off-line upon my return.