Monthly Archives: December 2010

Fix the Rules, Not the Game

By: Erica Nickels

When I pictured the United Nations negotiations on climate change, I imagined a giant conference centre with negotiations at one end, panel discussions at the other, and NGO and special interest groups’ booths somewhere in between.  The reality is that the side events and booth are in one complex, and the actual negotiations happen at the Moon Palace, a golf and spa resort a 20 minute bus ride away.  The general consensus is that this arrangement is highly inconvenient and often segregates country delegates from NGO representatives.  One of the unexpected advantages, however, is that you never know who you’re going to be sitting beside on the bus ride between the two venues.

pastedGraphic.pdfSeveral days ago, I struck up a conversation with a a negotiator from Burundi. She expressed frustration with the amount of time she spends getting from one space to another.  Her country can only afford to send 2 negotiators, and unlike the developed world, who are housing their negotiators at the prohibitively expensive Moon Palace, she an her fellow negotiator are staying at a less expensive hotel in downtown Cancun.  That means that before she’s even arrived at Moon Palace, she’s already spent an hour on the bus.  Add to that the fact that she is one of two negotiators, and there are up to 15 negotiating tracks happening at one time.  In comparison, this year Canada sent 60+ negotiators and support staff who can spell each other off when they need to eat or sleep or talk to their families. Meanwhile, the Burundians are run off their feet and fighting a losing battle.

To add insult to injury, while delegates barter endlessly back and forth over adaptation aid and who will pay whom how much, the United Nations, along with various country and private interest delegations, host lavish parties with open bars and exotic foods to tempt invitees to endorse the latest publication or purchase the most recent “green” product.  The Burundian negotiator was discouraged by the opulence that is so prevalent at the negotiations, suggesting that they could fund thousands of projects in her country with the money that is spent in two weeks on entertaining and showmanship at the UNFCCC.

There are some concrete things that I can do here as a youth delegate to support countries like Burundi, who have limited capacity at the negotiations. For example, I will be taking notes for Karibati, a series of small islands in the South Pacific who are already feeling the affects of climate change, and could see large swaths of their home land underwater within the century.  It is ironic that the countries most affected by climate change are often those with the most limited resources for sending negotiators to the United Nations to speak on their behalf.  By taking notes at the side events and  meetings that Karibati negotiators are unable to attend, I can help them to get the information they need to make informed decisions at the negotiations.

I believe, however, that we need to go further than volunteering to take notes.  The very fact that some countries send dozens of negotiators and hundreds of support staff while others are unable to send more than a handful highlights one of the many ways that existing inequities continue to be reinforced at the United Nations.  This is a space where all countries are supposed to be on a level playing field and have an equal voice.

If the United Nations were to limit the number of negotiators and support staff that each country is able to send to the negotiations, regardless of their financial means, they would be taking a big step forward towards ensuing that everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard.  While the existing inequities go much deeper than how many delegates from each countries are present, setting a firm cap on delegates would at least help ensure that everyone gets the same amount of sleep, and has the same number of representatives present during various conversations.  The United Nations isn’t perfect, but it’s currently the best option we have for facilitating high-level conversations around climate change.  That being said, it’s time for us to start a serious conversation about how it could work better.


December 6th, Day for Remembrance and Action

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) remembers the 14 lives lost twenty one years ago today.  We mark December 6th each year to remember the young women who were gunned down through senseless violence. We also mark December 6th as a call to action to end violence against women. Canada must not isolate the actions of one deranged individual – it needs to take action on all the factors present in our society that keep women from enjoying the safety and equality of men.

We still live in a country where persistent wage gaps tell women their work is not of equal value to men, where women continue to do two thirds of unpaid work and bear the brunt of poverty. Twenty one years later we are still fighting for our concerns to be taken seriously. As the Government defunds women’s groups who demand women’s equality, December 6 acts as a reminder to revive our commitment to gender equality.

In 2010, women experience domestic abuse, sexual assault on university campuses and the murder and disappearance of more than 600 aboriginal women. To break cycles of poverty and abuse that limit women’s lives, CFUW calls for action to end violence and inequality. Affordable housing, universal childcare, accessible post-secondary education and greater economic equality break down barriers to women’s equality.  This December 6th we remember the lives of the 14 young women who were senselessly murdered at Ecole Polytechnique because they were women. This December 6th we go forward to fight against the inequality and ideas that created the violence twenty one years ago – and the violence that continues to take place against women every day.

Breaking the Habit – Internet Addiction and Organizing

By Erica Nickels

There are a lot of wonderful things about being in Cancun – the fact that we can have our nightly meetings around the pool, for example, or build giant puppets on the back deck without having to worry about frostbite.  The delicious food and beautiful beaches are also a definite plus, although I haven’t had the time to enjoy much of either.

In fact, to be perfectly honest, there are also some really challenging things about being in Cancun – like the general confusion about what’s happening in what parts of the city, and even the thousands of soldiers and federal police lounging around the city with semi-automatic assault rifles and even.  Surprisingly, however, the most challenging part of my experience so far has been the city wide internet outage.

One of the amazing things about social media is that it provides us with the ability to be in constant contact with each other.  As a Canadian Youth Delegation, we have the capacity to live-stream the negotiations, tweet updates from within the conference centre, and circulate daily newsletters and podcasts to thousands of subscribers from across Canada.  Bt there’s a hitch – each and every one of these tools relies largely on a strong, reliable internet connection.  And internet is one thing that is in short supply these days in Cancun.

It’s been incredibly frustrating to coordinate a major communications campaign without a dependable internet connection, and it feels like I’ve spent most of my time so far chasing the ever elusive signal across the city.  I even travelled into the jungle to Klimaforum, partly to meet with other folks who have gathered at a people’s summit an hour outside of the city, but secretly because I had heard through the grapevine that they have a sweet internet hookup.  They do, but only for about 15 minutes every hour or so.

So here I sit, and as I type away on my computer, waiting for the internet to reboot, I’m questioning the internet.  What does it mean that we as organizers rely so heavily on technology?  What would happen if we unplugged ourselves from our computers?  Would we still be able to build a strong, diverse, global movement to combat climate change?

I think so.  In fact, sorting through the hundreds of emails I receive on a daily basis wherever I happen to find a connection has been seriously overwhelming.  While I appreciate the need to send out tonnes of information to as many people as possible, I wish people would send me fewer emails. I’m missing the personal interaction, and the relationship building that comes from face-to-face conversations.  Yet even as I finish up this blog, obviously I’m on the internet.  Despite my love-hate relationship with the internet right now, it would be a long and painful process to wean myself off of my internet addiction.