In the Corridors of Power
By Jessica Magonet
June 18, 2012
Bureaucrats are quite easy creatures to hate. Particularly those at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. As negotiations for the outcome document draw to a close, it seems more and more likely that the commitments made by world leaders will fall short of the sustainable development challenges facing our planet. While tracking the negotiations, I could not help but think: “Who are these negotiators? And why don’t they understand the urgency of the crises we are trying to address here? Why aren’t they being stronger, more ambitious leaders?“
Yesterday, I have the incredible opportunity to meet informally with several negotiators from different countries. It was a transformative experience. My primary objective in meeting with negotiators was to lobby them to add a section about the Polar Regions to the document being negotiated here in Rio. As it is, this document contains no references to the Polar Regions, though many other regions facing sustainable development are explicitly identified. Our delegation knows that the first step to addressing the sustainable development challenges in the poles brought on by climate change and the possibility of new Northern resource development is to recognize that these challenges exist. For weeks, we have been lobbying negotiators via email. We were thrilled when, after an email exchange with us, Finland proposed text about the Polar Regions. The entire EU backed them up. Unfortunately, their proposal was refused.
So I imagined that the negotiators I was meeting in Rio would not be that excited to see me. After all, I was meeting with them to say: “Try harder! The polar regions matter and you and your country are failing them.”
Which is why I was so surprised that all the negotiators I met were so happy to meet with me and learn about our delegation. All of them understood the challenges facing the Polar Regions (sometimes better than I do) and genuinely cared about the future of the Arctic and Antarctica.
This was not exactly what I was expecting.
It was during these meetings that I realized that a negotiator is not its country. Negotiators are (shockingly) human. And while States may remain indifferent about the future of the poles, humans cannot.
All this made me wonder if the UN could be reformed by asking negotiators to meet in coffee shops instead of conference rooms, and to represent themselves instead of countries. The negotiations could look more like the meetings I had yesterday, meetings between people who respected each other and their planet. If the UN functioned as a conversation between people, instead of countries, I think the possibilities for change would be enormous.