The Game of the G77

By Lara Shirley

The negotiating strategies employed by the G77+China are very interesting. They are a political entity, and thus have to be highly conscious of the image they project not only to their fellow negotiators but to the wider global community of civil society and media.

The G77 negotiators tend to use precise and sophisticated language, often being the only ones to explicitly demonstrate depth of knowledge on various issues. Their negotiators are highly articulate and educated, and make more of an effort to appear so than their US and EU counterparts. They have more of a need to appear intelligent: Their colleagues from the global North have much more economic and political power outside of the negotiating rooms, so less effort is needed within them.

At the same time, the G77 negotiators will also criticize this language and the process as a whole. They openly say that this dancing around language and meaning is silly, that negotiators should say what they really mean. They call upon fellow delegates to give the true reasons why they want to remove certain text, or even to give any reason at all (which countries don’t always do). They seem to expose the farcical nature of the whole negotiating charade.

They will also often remind their audience that they come from the developing world. For example, at the ’92 Earth Summit, in response to the Northern desire to have a short and “inspirational” Earth Charter that every child could hang above their beds, the G77 pointed out that many children did not even have beds. They pose themselves as a direct opposite to the global North that wants to abuse people and the environment – as advocates for justice and equity.

All of these traits are very appealing to onlookers. Appearing intelligent makes the G77 more respectable, more trustable. Denouncing the process strikes a very strong chord with all the frustrated observers watching people in suits bat semicolons between each other. Harking the unjustly exploited, ditto. They seem to be decent folks.

It’s depressing to realise that these tactics, which ring so close to my heart, are in fact nothing more than that: Tactics. They are tactics because these people are negotiators, they are not simply good people fighting an unjust system, they are people who work within the realm of politics, people whose job it is to negotiate. Tactics are used to push points forward, and those points are not always as morally upright as we would like to think they are.

Apart from the somewhat inevitable contradiction of speaking on behalf of a poverty they have probably never lived through, the G77 negotiators also criticize diplomacy and negotiating strategies only to turn around and work in the exact same way. They avoid mentions of human rights, of civil society, and of environmental conservation. They claim to be talking for their people and environment – but negotiators work for the interests of the governments that pay them, and not necessarily for the masses of hungry people or polluted ecosystems.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable contributions to make. They definitely do, and I find myself supporting their contributions far more often than those of the US or the EU – but it is essential to keep in mind that the G77 position doesn’t necessarily want the best for everyone.

Green economy: the square ball that negotiators struggle to roll

by Adrian Fernandez Jauregui

There is frustration and irritation revisiting, once more, the hallways and negotiating rooms of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). Despite the commonly used rhetoric about “moving forward” and “streamlining the text”, progress is slow and the outcome is uncertain.

In Working Group I negotiations (section three and five of the zero draft), the discussion on the Green economy is where disagreements between delegations are most fierce. In this section, crucial points for most countries are being negotiated and every one pulls in their own direction while trying to aim some low blows at anyone who opposes. What is more interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear alliance. At least for now, we aren’t seeing the usual North vs South dichotomy. Some of the most contentious issues are the Green Economy roadmap; also related with commitments, deadlines, targets and goals; and technology transfer, information sharing, and economic assistance.

When the EU pushes for a road-map (the number one point for the EU), the G77 is not hesitant to bracket and delete any mention of the so called road-map. The EU idea of a green economy road-map is a set of commonly accepted guidelines that would be used to achieve commonly agreed goals. In theory this road-map should direct national and international policies, and create regulations that work for a green economy. Ironically enough, the green economy is not clearly defined but some important elements of it would be the phasing out of subsidies, especially those that are harmful to the environment (e.g. tuna fisheries and gasoline), the use of financial mechanisms to leverage natural services, and the main-streaming of green technology (energy and resource efficient, and not carbon intensive). The G77 is not a fan of this road-map for a number of reasons.

One of the most fundamental reasons is that the idea of commonly agreed targets and goals with the combination of specific commitments resembles too closely the infamous structural reforms that took place (and to a certain extent still do) in the vast majority of developing countries, imposed as a condition of foreign aid. The sovereign right of states to decide how they carry on their sustainable development programs is paramount to the G77. For them there is no one roadmap, but as Rene Orellana, head of the delegation of Bolivia, said “if necessary, there must be as many roadmaps as there are countries”

Another issue is that, in the eyes of the G77, the Earth Summit is not about transitioning to a Green Economy, it’s about Sustainable Development. Although those two might overlap, if there is a conversation about road-map it shouldn’t be towards the green economy, but towards sustainable development!

While the US, Canada, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand seem to share a common position with the G77 about committing to specific actions, deadlines, targets and goals, their reasons are diametrically opposed. From the perspective of those developed countries, anyone who rejects the idea of committing to the European road-map represents more expenses in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA). These developed countries plus Norway, Japan and Australia among others see the green economy as an opportunity to guarantee access to new markets (green markets) for technology and information that enhance resource and energy efficiency. It is their priority to make sure that the document highlights the importance of intellectual property rights regulations and that transferring such property is determined in a bilateral basis (sold at the highest price that the market permits).

Many European countries are keen on the idea having the private sector play a greater role and share more responsibilities (whenever it is profitable) with the public sector. They are also major champions of protecting the markets of green technology and information. For the EU delegation, the way to achieve sustainability is to make it profitable. Once green technology (solar and wind energy, and more efficient and low carbon intensive ways of production) becomes more profitable than the alternative (carbon intensive sources of energy, and industries that use them) …. Thus, when the discussion is about markets and the role of the private sector they all join forces against the G77, criticizing their “unwillingness to achieve an agreement” and their insistence on “blocking the process”.

The perception of the G77 is slightly different. They wonder: now that we have more dynamic economies using technology that the industrialized world has used for decades you want to regulate and ban these technologies, so that you can sell us your new technology? There are a number of reasons to doubt of the intentions of those who preach the need to shift to more sustainable ways of production, but refuse to talk about more sustainable ways of consumption; the underlying problem.

After two weeks of negotiation the hyper inflated text has barely been reduced to nearly one hundred pages (of the no more than 20 pages they initially hoped to materialize). There is only two days left and the final outcome is not in sight. The question for us following the negotiations is: how are they going to reconcile their opposing positions?

What They Forgot to Mention

By Clara de Iturbe

The preceding day felt way too long and the tension in the air you felt when entering the ECOSOC room the morning after said a lot about what was coming next. Lengthy discussions of the Food Security thematic area—whose title has not yet been agreed upon—demonstrated that the North and the South have very specific agendas and that they are not ready to cooperate in certain areas yet. This was obviously predictable and it somehow kept the negotiations real. Israel and its last-minute additions remained obscure to the rest of the people present in the room, since they were yet to be analyzed by the other negotiating parties. These paragraphs will add to the many more that are to be considered, reconsidered and over considered in the next stages of the negotiation.

The rush I was feeling while being surrounded by so much reality, however, was clouded when I stepped back and realized that some vital aspects concerning food security were missing in the discussions. The amendments and new additions by the North and the G77 were many times not only repetitive and whimsical, but also lacking. Many issues were vaguely mentioned, and some major ones were not subject to discussion because they were simply not there at all—not mentioned even by the almighty G77. For instance, neither the text nor the amendments make reference to the food crisis. This is worrying as it should be the core of any proposed text or actions. By analyzing the implications and causes of the food crisis it is possible to figure out where the flaws of the current food system are and open in-depth discussions over what has to be done to overcome it. By forgetting to mention it, they are also forgetting the existing contradiction in  the fact that almost one billion people are currently food insecure while the world cereal production showed a historical peak in 2008. Moreover, this obscures the threat of clean biofuels to food prices and the huge political influence that the private sector has in this matter. The lack of reference to the food crisis undermines the importance of price stability and obscures the issue of speculation of food prices raised by the G77—which was rapidly bracketed by Australia.

On a not-so-different note, it seems like they also forgot that not everything concerning food security is about food production. Again, the overemphasis on production, or rather the extreme minimizing of food distribution and consumption patterns makes me wonder what their concept of achieving food security is, especially being clear that malnutrition is a challenge for both North and South. The only vague mention to distribution was proposed by the US yet in a context of sustainability—which is indeed important—but certainly does not address equity.

But let’s suppose for a moment that the negotiators actually cared about the sustainable production and distribution of food. If so, how can we explain that they also forgot to mention meat production—excluding fish? With the North and emerging economies increasing their meat consumption this should be a major area of debate, since this, besides being a great cause of land degradation and GHG emissions, is incredibly energy and water inefficient. Furthermore, the oxymoronic proposal of the US, EU, Norway, NZ and amongst other MDCs of encouraging a sustainable intensification of agriculture that makes charming promises of efficiency and increased yields, makes me worry that it might someday replace sustainable production. Also, only the G77 seemed to remember that this can in no ways be achieved without technology and information transfers and that, in fact, small scale farmers still supply around 70% of the world food while the oligopoly of agricultural technologies and GM seeds is held by only a handful of multinational corporations.

In the document, the US eagerly highlights the importance of agriculture for the Green Economy, but they prefer to forget the G77 appeals to actions at local and national levels. This will continue to create tensions between the countries with acute free-market approaches like the US, New Zealand, Canada, or Australia.

As these issues were being forgotten, many things were going on in the room. Delegations were very vocal: The right to food to which the US, the EU and other MDCs politely opposed; Mexico’s push for protecting traditional farming methods made the EU very uncomfortable; and Japan, surprisingly advocated for a more inclusive and localized food production. So, not all is looking so bad. Regardless of the EU effort to bracket any mention of indigenous farmers–as they consider it an ‘unclear concept’–one vastly addressed point of agreement was gender equality and the integration of other stakeholders in the process. The importance of land tenure was surprisingly mentioned too by an MDC.

I was not expecting that more comprehensive and ‘radical’ concepts like Food Sovereignty be mentioned, but it was very disappointing to find that the core aspects of the food crisis and the underlying inequity in the systems of production, distribution and consumption were not considered. So, I guess this blog entry was about what they forgot to mention, but not only that. It was about the good, bad and the ugly; about what is attainable, and politically unlikely; and about the issues that are so important that they simply prefer to ignore.

The Complexities of a Human Rights-Based Approach

by Lara Shirley

1. The demand for a human rights-based approach

In various side-events and negotiations, the concept of a human rights-based approach has come up several times, especially with regard to indigenous peoples, food security, and water.

This is essentially to ensure justice and effectiveness in the agreements that come out of these negotiations, and is particularly relevant within the context of sustainable development. Human rights are essential for reinforcing the social pillar, which can otherwise get lost between the economic and environmental pillars, as they are more easily measurable and less ignorable, although the economic more so.

There was an open letter written by 22 human rights UN experts calling for the document to contain human rights standards in their development goals in order to be successful. For goals to be effectively achieved, there needs to be accountability: for accountability, there needs to be standards, and human rights can be used as those standards.

2. The excuses against a human rights-based approach

Within the UN, human rights are (technically) non-negotiable: they are its cornerstone and one of the initial motives for its creation. Because of this, giving something ‘rights’ in UN carries a lot of weight and often responsibility as well.

Since a human rights-based approach is to help those who don’t already have rights, those that do have them dislike it because they are benefiting from the current situation. Thus, this proposal is unwelcome for most developed countries (excepting the occasional insertion from the Holy See and Liechtenstein).

Developed countries lamely hide behind a few pretenses to avoid acknowledging this. One of the most common excuses is that because the concept of ‘rights’ is apparently vague, the parties discussing it feel uncomfortable committing to something that they don’t know the definition of, and so they replace it with heavily weakened synonyms: ‘universal access’, ‘non-discriminatory access’, or even a paltry ‘commitment to’.

The US is exceptionally adept at dodging the human rights bullet, and during the food security negotiations even stated that a human rights-based approach is irrelevant to a document on sustainable development, because it is being discussed elsewhere.

However, it must be noted that the G77 is not the greatest advocate for human rights either. While they do push for rights to water and food, indigenous rights remain underrepresented. Some developing countries – China being the most obvious example – see human rights as another form of imperialism from the global North, as another excuse to inhibit economic development and impose culture. One issue being wrangled over in negotiations today was development in developing countries – a right that can be hindered by human rights.

3.  The moral implications of the framework of a human rights-based approach

What made the strongest impression on me – during all the events, but especially the indigenous peoples’ side-event – was this juxtaposition between indigenous representatives earnestly speaking about respect for and protection of their cultures, and their use of a distinctly Western non-indigenous negotiating tool: the UN Charter of Human Rights. Their aims become somewhat diluted because they are defined by these channels formed by a completely foreign mentality. In order to take action at such a high level, in this kind of organization and interacting with certain kinds of people, it is necessary to slot yourself into a bureaucratic shape in order to be comprehended and perhaps even listened to.

Unfortunately, by doing this you lose meaning: perhaps not technical meaning, but underlying significance. This links into the previous paragraph of China’s tussle between human and development rights: rights seem to morph into a mere trade-off, and human rights become just another negotiating tool to be manipulated back and forth instead a symbolic and unifying message.

This is not to say I am criticizing the indigenous people for going through this system, because they want results and the UN has the potential to give them that. Crechin Gordon, a policy analyst at the Indian Law Resource Center, spoke at the indigenous people’s side event and explained that a human rights-based approach is key. When socioenvironmental impacts are discussed, responsibility is invoked on actors to mitigate those impacts. When human rights are discussed, you invoke a duty to not violate those rights in the first place. With their acknowledgement, their violation has at least a chance of being prevented.

Human rights are another convoluted terrain fraught with implications and are far more difficult to navigate then they first appear. However, unlike many UN constituents, human rights actually have the potential to be politically maneuvered by major groups to make a change for the better. More power to them.