Words Matter


Words are pretty important at these UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany.Over the past nine days, my CARE colleagues and I have been meeting with negotiators in Bonnand suggesting what words should (or is it shall?) be included in the legal text of the post-2012 global climate change agreement.

I”ve been covering the adaptation negotiations. And in this context, we”ve been advocating for words in the legal text that highlight the importance of prioritizing adaptation funding for the communities, populations and people most vulnerable to climate change, as well as words that underscore the importance of inclusive, transparent and participatory decision making.

Basically, as an organization that works with some of the world”s poorest and most vulnerable people, we want the post-2012 agreement to ensure that funding for adaptation reaches the people most vulnerable to climate change and to ensure that they have a firm role in making decisions that will directly affect them. Because let”s face it. The people most vulnerable to climate change did not cause climate change, they will need the most support to adapt to new climate conditions, and unless it is made explicit in the agreement, they may not have any say in decisions about how to adapt.

Getting these kinds of words into the negotiating text, and keeping them in the text, willgive organizations like CARE and the poor communities with which we work something to stand on once a global agreement is signed, ratified and put into practice at the national level. We”ve learned from our 60 years of experience working with some of the world”s poorest communities that, when these principles are articulated and upheld in practice, our efforts to reduce poverty and social injustice are more effective and sustainable. When the UN talks started last week, the kinds of words we are advocating for were few and far between in the negotiating text.

Over the past nine days, I have had a few “up’ days – days when I could find humor in the moment, as we”ve talked words. Like the time I started a conversation by saying, “Thank you for meeting with us. I would like to speak with you about the principles governing the institutional arrangements that will operationalize the financial mechanisms under the post-2012 agreement.’ I had to laugh. Because where else but at a UN climate change meeting would these words, all strung up together, make sense to anyone?

I have also had “down’ days – days when I”ve wondered about the futility of our efforts. Together with the rest of the CARE team and other NGO folk here, I”ve analyzed text, drafted up recommended language, met with Party delegates and asked them to champion these recommendations. I was not always so sure, however, whether what we are doing will actually make a difference.

And so today, when the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change circulated the newest version of the text on adaptation, I nearly fell out of my chair. The newest version of the text is based on submissions received by Party delegations last night, after they had their first reading of the negotiating text on adaptation. They were given an opportunity to add new language and point out places where they had reservations or objections.

This newest text is not perfect, and there is still a lot of work to be done. But it is definitely moving in the right direction. There is language about prioritizing most vulnerable communities, populations and people. There are also references to inclusive processes and decision-making at the lowest appropriate levels.

Like I said, the words in this newest text are not perfect. They can certainly be strengthened. But, for now, they are there. And they are there, in part, because we raised our voices on behalf of the communities with which we work, and we were heard.

So today was definitely an up day.