Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Negotiating - a numbers game the poor must lose

John Vidal had a very good piece on the pre-Copenhagen talks in the Guardian last Friday. Reading this article reminded me of something I have often read elsewhere - that one of the real reasons why developing countries will always lose out at the climate change talks is that they haven't enough negotiators or expertise - a stupidly simple, practical reason that western governments take ruthless advantage of.

Vidal reports that the whole of Africa - 55 countries - has only 145 negotiators - to cover every area, to be present at all the meetings. 'At least 50 countries have only one or two, but the WWF… has a team of 50'. What is more, 'the G77 has no offices, no permanent staff and no budget to meet in advance of conferences'. Even the language - invariably English - is against many of them. Meanwhile, the UK, USA and Denmark have 142 participants between them, plus innumerable lawyers, interpreters and consultants on tap, all armed with huge budgets, etc. The conferences are organised and run and the agenda and processes are comprehensively dominated by white diplomats from industrial countries. It's quite impossible for developing countries, and the real decisions are made when they are not present, in closed meetings.

But this is exactly the model on which the WTO operates - effective exclusion by lack of representation and expertise, the manipulation of meetings and a constant and quite deliberate war of attrition and divide and conquer against the poor and weak.

And why are they poor and weak in the first place? Because of the last couple of centuries of colonial and post-colonial exploitation.

So well done all you clever western negotiators! Who knows how many people will die because you exercised your talent for bullying and deceit so expertly in the name of the glorious western way of life! And how soon do you plan to start blaming the poor for their plight, or congratulating yourselves on your wonderful humanity? But I forgot -you started on that one the moment you set foot in their countries and heroically took up the White Man's Burden.

Words fail me. (Well, obviously not, Richard...)

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