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B.U.M.M. (Bewilderment at an Unorganized, Mindless Meeting )

June 3, 2009

Taylor and I are starting to get a hang of the lingo used in the UN negotiations. It really is key, or else you won’t know what anyone is talking about. There are two separate working groups that the countries split into here, known as the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA. The former is the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, and the latter is the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action. When we first arrived, the terms were more confusing than the older German women trying to tell us to press the STOP button on the bus so they could get off at their stop. (We didn’t understand in time, but that’s a different story).

But those are not the only need to know acronyms at the conference. Today Taylor and I found the list of 155 acronyms that help the 180 countries and 200 non-governmental organizations navigate the conference. It’s amazing.The acronyms range from N.N. (“not named”) to JUSCAANZ: “Japan, United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand. (Former negotiating group, has been replaced by the Umbrella Group)”.


Additionally, Pakistan and Ghana requested a glossary of terms today to be created so they would know what terms like “climate resilient development” actually mean. And I won’t even get into the six languages the texts are translated into, and what problems that causes.

But while acronyms may be overwhelming, I understand their purpose and how they simply evolve over years of negotiating policy. But the meeting that we went to today, the  “Contact group on potential consequences,” was simply depressing and unacceptable. We walked in a half hour late and the Chair was still discussing the structure by which they would dialogue. In the hour we were there, all that was talked about was a few bracketed words in their section of the treaty. Putting a bracket around a word means the wording will be discussed later. And since they couldn’t agree on removing any brackets, Canada simply proposed more brackets.

The inefficiency of the meeting was, to put it gently, a new experience. Around forty minutes in I leaned over to Taylor and said, “We need to leave before I pull my face off.” But we stayed, because he wanted to take in the full effect of the absurdity. By the time we left, my partner in crime was in a humorous state of shock, muttering to himself and staring blankly into space. When I began writing this, he was still shaking his head and thinking about taking a nap in the Prayer and Meditation room on the first floor.

meeting schedule

I have always given the U.N. the benefit of the doubt when I have heard politicians say the United Nations and its suborganizations (like the one hosting this conference) are simply wasteful.  And I recognize that not all meetings are like the one we attended, and of the possibility of stuctural UN reform. But sessions run like the “contact group on potential consequences” sends one, clear message to the world: we simply don’t care.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ross permalink
    June 3, 2009 6:18 pm

    Hey guys,

    I can commiserate with Anthony wanting to pull his face off. Like I said in an earlier comment I have been following the conference via webcasts. Anthony, you perfectly described how I felt a couple of days ago while watching a conference on the role of private finance in support CDM’s, a lot of talking without anyone saying anything. It makes a chapter meeting seem speedy and highly efficient.


  2. Mike permalink
    June 4, 2009 2:48 pm

    Many developed countries intentionally obfuscate their intentions with unclear language. This allows them to deflect criticism from activists, and also solidifies their advantage over LDCs, which lack the legal expertise and organizational resources to wade through the bureaucratic morass. I hope one of the negotiators slips up and actually says something straightforward!


    PS very interesting blog, keep it up!

  3. June 4, 2009 4:01 pm

    We Canadians are pro pointless intricacies – your square brackets comment was thoroughly enjoyable.

  4. Caroline Gilson permalink
    June 4, 2009 5:17 pm

    Hi guys: you have a link and story via DePauw’s homepage. Good luck and thanks for the blog posts.

  5. Phil permalink
    June 6, 2009 10:28 pm

    Anthony, these mindless meetings are the process, even if you want to pull your face off! You are witnessing the posturing so don’t expect too much. These aren’t the decision-makers. As for the brackets, this is the process. The devil is always in the details! Don’t be pessimistic now; save it for later. There is still Copenhagen and the adoption or ratification process following.

    The blog doesn’t suggest much discussion about the economic impact of climate change solutions. The cost, and who pays what, are nearly always the bottom line, even for Tuvalu!


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