How I learnt to make my voice count at the UN climate negotiations

Date: 23 July 2018

Xaysomphone Souvannavong is deputy director of the Division of Climate Change Promotion in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic Department of Climate Change , Lao PDR. She is also a ‘junior climate negotiator’representing Lao PDR at the UN climate change talks. In this blog, she explains how a recent training work shop she attended gave her the tools to navigate the complex UN climate talks and provided the skills she needed to push for more positive outcomes for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) during these crucial international exchanges.

Working in the Department of Climate Change in Lao PDR, I am part of the delegation representing my country at the UNFCCC climate negotiations. Together, we prepared the first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for Lao PDR – setting out how our nation will adapt to the impacts of climate change and curb our emissions,which are a negligible portion of total global emissions. This is a road map for implementing and reporting on our climate pledges from 2020, when commitments from all parties to the Paris Agreement will kick in.

 Country priorities: taking the adaptation track

Through the training and support provided by the European Capacity Building Initiative(ecbi), which helps junior delegates navigate their way through the climate negotiation process, I learnt there would be a range of negotiations tracks all happening at the same time. I understood how it would be more effective to focus on a specific theme, rather than trying to follow them all.

In Lao PDR, as in many other LDCs, people rely heavily on agriculture.  Approximately 70 percent of the population is dependent on the sector for their livelihoods. Changes in temperature, rainfall or flooding have severe impacts on food production. For Lao PDR, finding ways to adapt to these changes is a priority.

As a former designated national expert for the National Mekong Committee’s Climate Change Adaptation Initiative and given my division’s involvement with the NDC, it made sense for me to follow negotiations on‘Adaptation Communications’. This is a way of communicating national adaptation priorities, implementation and support needs, plans and actions under the Paris Agreement.

In addition to the valuable advice given as part of the ECBI workshops, my personal experience also taught me the need to prioritise. During my first climate negotiations at COP23 in Bonn – for which I prepared during the pre-COP workshop in Bonn ,  I thought I had come well prepared. But I ended up running from one negotiation to the next. I was confused and overwhelmed by the sheer volumes of information and amazed by the incredibly fast pace at which the negotiations take place. Being pulled in so many directions was exhausting. I didn’t feel I was making an effective contribution.

Levelling the playing field for LDCs

A few months after COP23, I was invited to attend an ecbi training workshop in Colombo, SriLanka along with other junior negotiators from developing countries in Asia and the Pacific. The workshop’s purpose was to build the capacity of participants, so they could take part more proactively in the UNFCCC process.

This was an opportunity to be briefed on specialist issues included in the Paris Agreement, learn how to unpack technical jargon and obtain guidance on interpreting legal text and how to form group positions. The workshop would arm me with the skills and knowledge to tackle many of the challenges I’d faced in Bonn. I signed up at once!

 ‘Mock’ negotiations: hard stances and compromise

My favorite part of the workshop was the mock negotiation session; a role-play where each participant represents a country in a realistic simulation of a negotiating session.I was surprised at first by the intensity and drama of the session – and to learn that negotiators will take hard stances and even become aggressive at times. But I later realized this is simply countries defending their positions as best they can– not attacking other delegates personally.

The other main lesson I learned was that no party gets everything they are trying to negotiate into the text. Compromise is key; we all had to let go of something at some point in order to move the negotiation forward and achieve an outcome that was acceptable to all.

Life lessons

Another surprise for me is that I’ve taken the negotiation skills and put them into practice in everyday life as well as my work! Some of the material from the workshop proved particularly relevant when I conducted an in-country outreach program on the UN Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement and NDC background information.

Xaysomphone Souvannavong, of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, discusses attending an IIED and ecbi workshop in Bonn in November 2017 before COP23

Strength in numbers

The workshop’s most valuable benefit was the chance to build a close community of participants,all with similar challenges and working toward the same goal.Our group of junior negotiators trained together throughout the workshop, shared experiences, learned from each other and formed strong bonds. It is likely that our group will meet again and negotiate side by side at COP-related events. The the network we’ve built during the workshop will grow and continue for years to come.

The workshop has given me the skills to access the right information and focus on the set objectives for adaptation in Lao PDR. By planning better and earlier for future negotiation sessions, I believe I can make my contribution count.

This blog was originally posted on the IIED website on 23 July 2018

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