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How to get attention in Copenhagen

Jean-Paul Remanoby is widely regarded as the best farmer in Anjanavelo, a small community in southern Madagascar - his peers selected him to be the first recipient in a programme offering new farming techniques and inputs - like improved seeds and alterna
Jean-Paul Remanoby is widely regarded as the best farmer in Anjanavelo, a small community in southern Madagascar (Tomas de Mul/IRIN)

Some of the world's poorest countries, which also happen to be on the frontline of climate change, are finding strategies to move the spotlight at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen to helping them adapt to doing things differently.

There is strength in numbers: some countries, like Mali, have found donors to help them afford more representatives in Copenhagen; Lesotho and Burkina Faso have teamed up with countries experiencing similar problems. Or there is narrowing your focus: other countries, like Eritrea, are selectively attending sessions that could benefit them directly.

Most of these nations face dire shortfalls in food production and water stresses in the next decade, and their main aim is accessing critical funds and technology to help them adapt, as part of a deal made in Copenhagen.

IRIN caught up with the leaders of some government delegations from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and local NGOs to get a sense of how small nations and organizations with little voices plan to make themselves heard.

Finding the money

Mali, a West African country caught in a vicious, often unpredictable cycle of droughts and heavy rainfall that illustrates the unfolding impact of climate change, sent a strong message to their government to send a big, vociferous delegation to the UN climate change talks to ensure its voice would carry weight.

"We had a series of workshops right down to the local government level for an entire year, to prepare to engage the world at the climate change talks to get finance and technology to help our people adapt," said Fatoumata Diakite, Mali's ambassador to Denmark.

At an end-of-day briefing session with her country's team, she laughed as she recalled the number of delegates Mali had been able to send to global conferences. "There would be five people from the government, and the rest - nine of us were from NGOs, but all women, I was one of them - sadly, we don't have any women in the delegation now."

It had been hard to be present at all the sessions to state their case, but the number of people representing her country at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen has mushroomed from five to almost 50. "It was political will, and we found donors to support us ... there is a lot of public awareness now about climate change."

''50 percent of our economy depends on agriculture - for us it is a question of our country's survival''

It's about survival

Mali straddles the arid Sahel, on the edge of the Sahara Desert; in another 15 years it will be much hotter and drier, and "50 percent of our economy depends on agriculture - for us it is a question of our country's survival," Diakite commented. Projections indicate that 68 percent of the population will be pushed into hunger.

Each member of the delegation has to raise Mali's interests and concerns at the sessions they attend and report back to team at the end of the day. The feedback is discussed and strategies are framed to help focus their approach.

Robert Farmer, the head of Third Planet, a US-based NGO promoting sustainable energy development, noted that attending climate change sessions, which can run well into the night, could be overwhelming for anyone but more so for representatives from poorer countries, who often do not have the capacity to attend all the sessions.

As the often lone representative of his organization, Farmer said he had found useful counsel in On Behalf of My Delegation: A Guide for Developing Country Climate Negotiators, a book written by Joyeeta Gupta, an author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

Gupta advises lone representatives to attend sessions with the greatest relevance to their countries, or find negotiators from like-minded countries and divide attending the sessions between them. Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Lesotho and Nepal seem to have followed this advice.

"We are very focused in our approach – we are only attending sessions on finance for adaptation and technology transfer, and we have eight experts attending these sessions," said Seid Abdu Salih, Eritrea's national climate change coordinator.

He noted that their team has grown from three to eight, and that the impact of climate change had influenced the usually reclusive Eritrean government to allow the officials to travel to the conference. "We are very grateful to the government," he said.

Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom in southern Africa, is struggling with water stress, droughts and severe deforestation. Bruno Sekoli, its chief negotiator and chair of the LDC group, said in terms of climate change impact and adaptation strategies, Lesotho had much more in common with the Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan than the rest of Africa.

They are considering teaming up. "Our communities live in similar conditions, so our adaptation strategies will be very similar," he pointed out.

On the other hand, countries like Burkina Faso are hoping to make themselves heard through bigger collectives like the LDC group and the Africa group. "If our voices and concerns are still not heard, then, as a last resort, we will have to go it alone," said Mamdou Honadia, chief negotiator for Burkina Faso.

"Money is critical," said Uday Sharma, environment secretary in the Nepalese government. The LDCs have adopted one position and put their weight behind it: that 75 percent of all adaptation money should go to the poorest countries.

Some local NGOs, like Environmental Alert in Uganda, have struck up strategic partnerships with their government to provide counsel, technical support, and keep a check on government representatives to ensure that the interests of constituencies are looked after.

Gupta suggested in her book that government officials ask NGOs from their country for help. Environmental Alert's Christine Nantongo, who is also a member of the government delegation, said she would be keeping tabs on adaptation money and technology transfer.


IRIN's climate change coverage has made it into the finals of the Earth Journalism Awards, being held at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen. The polls are still open for the Global Public Award so take a minute to vote for us here: http://awards.earthjournalism.org/finalist/climate-change-focus-on-eritrea-eritrea

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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