What does Ringo have to do with climate change?

What does Ringo have to do with climate change?

Inside the Bella Centre, Copenhagen, there is a row of portakabins. On one door, in bold capitals it says ‘RINGO’.   For a couple of old Beatles fans making their way out after registration that raised false hopes.    Last week the UN adopted as the unofficial anthem of COP15 Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’. Surely it is only a short step from there to the formation of a new supergroup to harangue negotiators and world leaders through song?
 
That illusion was shattered by the labels on the other portakabin doors. Next to RINGO is TUNGO. Look along the line and you see YUNGO, ENGO and BINGO. Sadly for other fans of the 1960s, the Banana Splits are not reforming either. 
 
The line of acronyms tells you a lot about the dynamics of this conference.   At its heart are the negotiating teams who have been working through the gruelling sequence of talks to find a replacement for, and a radical improvement upon, the Kyoto protocol.   Heads of state and government are due to arrive over the next two weeks, lining up to acclaim any deal that can be reached by 18 December.   In every other corner of the Bella Centre are the ‘Observers’ – NGOs, pressure groups and representatives of civil society. Although they have no direct role in negotiations, the observer organisations play an extremely significant part in the conference, organising side events and daily briefing sessions designed to ensure that the negotiators do not lose sight of the extraordinary range of issues and interests that must be addressed and balanced if they are to reach a meaningful and effective deal.
 
The observer organisations are clustered into broad ‘constituencies’. The main ones are:
 
BINGO - Business and Industry NGOs
ENGO - Environmental NGOs
TUNGO - Trade Union NGOs
IPO - Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations
LGMA - Local Government and Municipal Authorities
RINGO - Research-oriented and Independent Organisations
YUNGO – Youth NGOs
Faith – Faith-based NGOs
Gender – Gender-based NGOs
 
Observer constituencies are typically given opportunities at each UNFCCC session to provide input to the formal process by making a brief prepared statement from the floor. Known as interventions, those opportunities are provided by invitation of and at the discretion of Chairs of the UNFCCC sessions and are not guaranteed. 
 
Side events are also limited. Slots are awarded by the UNFCCC secretariat in advance of the specific meeting session. Observer organisations are allowed one official side event per UNFCCC meeting and are encouraged to group their events with other organisations with similar topics.
 
The result is an extraordinary clamour for attention, and a severe test of the advocacy and media skills of each constituency. For those whose issues have attained hard won places in the negotiating text the main challenge is to ensure that strong wording remains, tentative wording is strengthened and square brackets removed. For other groups the challenge, now perhaps insurmountable, is to introduce new commitments, or at least to put down markers for future negotiations.
 
The striking point is that the inclusion or exclusion of issues from the negotiating text does not necessarily reflect their importance. Among the ‘cinderella’ issues is the emission of greenhouse gases from degrading peatland discussed by Susanna Tol in a recent Lexis podcast. In that case, work collated and published for the first time in November 2009 presents evidence at regional and national levels to show both the scale of emissions from drained wetlands and their global distribution.  The huge effort put in by Wetlands International up to and including the final round of pre-COP15 talks in Barcelona resulted in the late inclusion of ‘placeholder’ text in the draft policy on deforestation and degradation, and the chance during COP15 to argue for fuller provisions.
 
Other RINGOs, BINGOs, ENGOs, TUNGOs and YUNGOs are starting from a much lower base. For them, anything that approaches the ‘ambitious, sweeping agreement’ and framework for rapid action called for by UN Climate Chief, Yvo de Boer at Sunday’s pre-conference briefing may come to look like an irretrievably missed opportunity.