Row over transparency as climate talks told to 'get serious'

A dispute over a decision to block civil society groups from key negotiating sessions at UN climate talks in Bonn escalated on Wednesday, as governments were urged to speed up decision making ahead of a Friday deadline.

Representatives of indigenous, women’s and environment groups and trade unions called for a reversal of Tuesday’s decision to exclude them from discussions on a global climate change deal due to be agreed in Paris in December.

The co-chairs of the talks told non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Bonn they hoped to set up a briefing for them with officials running the negotiating groups on Thursday.

“Transparency will be assured, and we beg you to understand this,” said co-chair Ahmed Djoghlaf.

But African negotiators, in particular, backed the NGO position, arguing their citizens back home had the right to know what was happening at the climate talks.

“It is my understanding that this should be an open forum where everything happens in a transparent setting because there is nothing to be hidden,” said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, a delegate for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mali’s lead negotiator Seyni Nafo, the spokesperson for African states at the talks, said he would urge developing nations to break off the negotiations if observers were not allowed to monitor the discussions.

Protesters from green groups and development charities picketed the conference centre in Bonn, wearing blindfolds to symbolise their exclusion, and holding up signs saying “Keep us in the room”.

More than 125 NGOs released a statement deploring the decision to exclude them, describing it as “undemocratic, untransparent and unacceptable”.

It is my understanding that this should be an open forum where everything happens in a transparent setting because there is nothing to be hidden.

Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, a delegate for the Democratic Republic of Congo

“It reflects a process by which the voices of those most impacted by - and least responsible for - climate change are silenced,” they said.

They noted some 135 developing countries had argued in favour of their presence.

NGOs were barred from break-out talks following a request from Japan that they should be kept away to allow negotiations to proceed more smoothly.

The co-chairs of the talks decided “spin-off” groups, now numbering nine, focused on particular negotiating topics would be limited to governments, in line with rules about informal meetings in the UN climate process.

Gita Parihar, the legal head at Friends of the Earth in Britain, said it was “particularly mystifying that the EU, which has legal obligations to promote our participation in these negotiations, has remained silent” in the debate.

Civil society groups noted they represent the public, to whom negotiators are ultimately responsible. They also emphasised their role in helping smaller, vulnerable states - which often have fewer delegates at the talks - to navigate the complex UN climate discussions.

“Civil society participation is critical. We provide technical support, expertise and knowledge to (countries) and the process,” said Alyssa Johl, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law.

Observers said keeping them out of “spin-off” groups had not helped the talks advance faster so far, as little progress was reported by Wednesday morning.

‘Plan A only option’

Laurence Tubiana, France’s ambassador to the climate talks, said she was “very concerned” the current way of working would not get governments far enough by the end of the Bonn talks on Friday to pave the way for success at the Paris summit.

“We need to get serious today,” she told negotiators. “There is no plan B - the only option is to achieve plan A.”

It was agreed that officials running the negotiating groups should help craft “bridging proposals” to bring governments closer together on sticky issues such as how to boost emissions reductions in the coming decades and increase funding for poor countries to adapt to extreme weather and rising seas.

Djoghlaf said later in the day negotiators had been told they must start hammering out compromises now, so they can leave the Bonn talks with a draft text that offers a limited number of clear options for political leaders to work with.

“If it is an incoherent and incomprehensible document, with just a compilation of positions, how will the world look at this process?” he said. “The whole process … will be questioned.”

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