My Republica: Nepal is chairing the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the year 2013 and 2014. Recently, in one of the programs organised at the side-lines of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP 18) meeting held in Doha, Qatar, the outgoing chair Gambia handed the baton to Nepal.
For over a year, Nepal lobbied hard for the chairmanship. Bangladesh was its tough contender from among the Asian LDCs. However, on a rotational basis, Nepal was unanimously agreed on for the job. In Doha, Prakash Mathema, the joint secretary of the Climate Change Management Division at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MoSTE) was nominated the chair of the Group.
With this additional responsibility, Nepal will not only have to further its national interest in the highly politicised UNFCCC climate talks, but also promote the interests of the 48 poor nations represented in the group. The LDC group consists of 33 African, 14 Asia Pacific and one Caribbean nation, which together form a very diverse, uneven and regionally dissimilar group.
UN Climate talks are becoming more and more political and economically self-centred rather than converging on how to tackle the catastrophe that the world is facing. Even after frequent reminders coming in the form of extreme events such as hurricane Bopha in the Philippines, hurricane Evan in Fiji, hurricane Sandy in the United States, droughts in many parts of Africa, and many severe weather events around the world that destroy the lives and properties of millions of people, it is still the rich and powerful nations’ muscles flexing that continues to triumph at international forums. Up to this point, the actions at the international level have been insignificant, and for that very reason, we continue to negotiate an elusive legally-binding international treaty with the meagre hope that we can reach a common meeting ground in the near future.
One must remember that the biggest UN climate conference held in Copenhagen in 2009 did not fail without reason—short-term political and economic interests of rich nations overpowered environmental concerns. Over 120 heads of states that attended the summit failed to agree on a global climate treaty, which continued to haunt us over these years.
In recent years, when climate change talks have become increasingly harsh, multifarious, dynamic, technical and multilateral, poor countries like Nepal find themselves in an extremely difficult position. And this complexity is growing, requiring more prudence and subtle diplomacy to handle it. Since Nepal is already grappling with political upheaval inside the country, shouldering international responsibility is surely going to be an additional burden.
The outgoing chair, Gambia, distinguished itself as a strong and shrewd leader, and gained wide recognition and appreciation. Nepal needs to maintain those standards, or even raise the bar. Can Nepal live up to the expectations?
For a poor and non-influential country like Nepal that has, in the previous conventions, fallen short of playing any critical role, the responsibility seems daunting. But Nepal recently led the LDC group in the United Nations, which should help boost its confidence. Like Gambia, Nepal should work closely with the existing thematic coordinators of other LDC countries for assistance. After all, this is how the group has worked and functioned in the past under any chair. There are also a few other things to consider.
First, Nepal will have to put in a small but extremely experienced, competent and committed team to head the task. The existence of a Core Negotiating Team may seem a little dysfunctional, but a big team is not necessarily more effective, instead it is necessary that the team be highly disciplined and accountable to the chair. To avoid being seen as confused and chaotic, it is of utmost importance that all the negotiating members of the team do not have as much authority as the chairs, but instead work actively under the guidance of the chair.
Second, as a chair, Nepal should prepare itself, and immediately call a meeting of the LDC thematic coordinators from different countries that have been closely following the specific issues, in order to strategize. This is crucial to take the other members of the group into confidence. This meeting should also be used to convey the approach that Nepal will take for next two years. While doing so, it should also enhance the capacity and technical skills of its internal core team.
Third, the chair must be open and transparent in seeking support and constructive suggestions that will help make the tenure a success. There must be regular exchange of information and communication between other stakeholders. The Office of the Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry should provide regular guidance and oversight to the chair when it comes to political and diplomatic support.
Fourth, Nepal will also have to skilfully further its national interests along with the group’s agenda. Leading the most climate-vulnerable group, while sitting between the two growing powers China and India as its neighbours, and dealing with the established rich and powerful nations will be like walking on the edge of a sword. In this context, how much the country and the group will gain under Nepal’s leadership will be evaluated at the end of its term in two years.
Undoubtedly, Nepal has a tough job, but it is not impossible, as many other least developed countries have played this part in the past. But it is also true that Nepal is taking over the chairmanship at a time when the climate negotiation is at its peak, with the pressure of having to agree on an international legal treaty by 2015. Many countries are breaking away from the usual negotiating blocks to create their own like-minded groups to further their interests. The trust among different parties is extremely low, as climate mitigation targets are unsatisfactory, financial support offered to developing countries is scanty, and the talks are being unnecessarily stretched with procrastinations on crucial decisions.
Often, developed and powerful countries employ every possible influence to bring weaker countries over to their side so that decisions can be made in their favor. Some even go to the extent of employing arm-twisting tactics, i.e. threatening to cut off the development aid and support to poor counties. Besides, the position of LDCs is of particular interest to any future outcome of a global treaty, because it is the group most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Nepal as a leader will have to stand strong with the group and manoeuvre the negotiation course with the rich and powerful countries. The difficult days have just begun!
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