Negotiating the future (2)


This climate negotiator struggles to remain hopeful even after seeing the worst of processes and of human nature.

Bernarditas Muller concludes her day-long lecture on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by talking about what really happened in Copenhagen in December, what should have happened, and what should be done if mankind is serious about coming up with a global deal to significantly bring down the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The lead negotiator for the G77 plus China bloc (she was taken out of the Philippine delegation but was adopted by the Sudan) says established processes in the negotiation world were shamelessly disregarded in the Denmark talks. For the first time, Muller -- a diplomat and international negotiator who knows global deal-making like the back of her hand -- did not know what was going on and what would happen next. The procedures were always changing, there were “bilateral meetings galore” and people were constantly asking: “When, what, where are the meetings?”

Along the way there were efforts to apply pressure to developing countries so they would weaken the united stance of the bloc. Pressure came in the form of “assistance” in mitigating efforts. But these countries are so poor, Muller says, that they do not have the capacity to mitigate. Why, they don't even have enough money to send a few negotiators to the conference! No bloc wanted to move until it was sure the others would move in the same direction. In the end, developing countries were accused of blocking the progress of the talks by their defiant stance.

At the end of the conference there was the Copenhagen Accord, hailed as the deal that had been arrived at to save the world. In truth, the accord was crafted by no more than 26 nations chosen “on the basis of God knows what,” Muller says. The accord is now notorious for its inconclusiveness. It has been described as little more than an agreement to talk some more at some later date. Now there are already questions whether the 16th Conference of Parties, to be held in Mexico later this year, will be able to accomplish anything. There are concerns that it will turn out to be a venue for the same power trips, doublespeak, more of the trite rich-versus-poor melodrama.

Mrs. Muller also says there should be strong preparatory work in formulating a national position. Inter-agency mechanisms are important: there has to be input not just from policy-makers in the government but also from civil society organizations, local government units and the private sector. The people in the team should be competent; “when you are negotiating, mental presence is as important as physical presence,” Muller, who has met a fair share of buffoons – mokongs, she calls them -- in various teams, advises. People should understand their rights and make sure that their government fights for these rights through the able representatives it sends to such conferences.

Then again, as much as there is work in formulating the national position, there should be cohesiveness among developing countries in defending that position.


Indeed Muller has seen it all. An article in The Guardian, written by John Vidal and published in November 2009, talks about a rumor that went around the diplomatic grapevine. Muller appeared to be very friendly with the delegates from Saudi Arabia, the story went, because she had just received a house from them.

“Outrageous,” Muller remarked. Then again, she knows how she could easily be the target of nasty talk. “She is incorruptible, that's why they hate her,” says a colleague. And indeed “they” -- meaning the industrialized countries – do not like her because “she likes reminding them that they are in breach of their obligations all the time. They roll their eyes and say, 'there she goes again',” says an insider to the talks.

Muller talks about the time she lost her cool in Denmark. Toward the end of the conference, when there was pressure from outside to produce a deal, she was trying to drive home a point to her counterparts. But she noticed that the eyes of the other negotiators were glazed over, as if they were hearing her but not listening. “I think I am going out to get a cup of coffee,” she said, frustrated. But she soon bounced back from her frustrations, as she always does.

“There is no sense in cutting off your nose to spite your face,” she tells those who feel so disheartened by what transpired in Copenhagen and who have suggested stopping the talks that don't seem to get anywhere. There have been many obstacles but there have been many gains, for instance in adaptation efforts in the country. There have been many lessons learned.

What is the way forward? Muller says we do not have to re-invent the wheel. The basic principles and processes have all been laid down in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We just have to FOLLOW them. The two-track process in arriving at a legally binding climate deal must be maintained. Countries of the world must make their national delegations stronger, more competent, more incorruptible. Civil society is a helpful ally that must be engaged. There must be recognition that power blocs are ever-changing – and that we are running out of time.

What drives this lady are her three grandchildren, whom she adores, and for whom she wants a better future. It does not look at all as though Mrs. Muller is about to take a breather from her advocacy. She echoes a line made famous during the days of oppressive Marcos regime: Kung hindi ako, sino? Kung hindi dito, saan? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan? (If not me, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?)