The REDD+ partnership descended into a public farce on Tuesday evening. I’m not letting any cats out of the bag by noting that the Papua New Guinea delegation is being pointedly blamed for derailing these important discussions, by the whole spectrum of participants here in Tianjin.
This is a tragedy for PNG. Two years ago, the country and its negotiating team was still central to the rapid development of REDD as a concept and as a model of progress for the wider climate debate. As well as initiating the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, PNG was a key early target of the UN-REDD and World Bank-funded FCPF, the main multilateral funding channels for REDD readiness. The country had credibility as a serious player, even a leader, in the development of REDD.
That credibility is under serious threat. It has been deteriorating rapidly with civil society, at home and abroad, for some time. After the last few days, it must surely be severely damaged in the eyes of fellow delegates.
On Tuesday evening, the co-chair of the partnership, representing PNG, infuriated a roomful of delegates and civil society observers by single-handedly blocking – again – any discussions on stakeholder participation. Against the express wishes of the vast majority of delegations, stakeholder participation was at the bottom of the agenda. Two hours went by, agonizingly, as delegates, one after another, proposed discussing the topic immediately and the co-chair, with rapidly diminishing authority, continued to claim a lack of consensus to move forward. She proposed (and was denied) a closed meeting to discuss the matter, contrary to a clear decision at the weekend to keep all partnership meetings open to civil society. Eventually, visibly distressed by the experience, she requested a five minute recess to confer with her Japanese co-chair, but instead made a half-hour phone call to a mysterious contact…
However, PNG must not be blamed for this. The co-chair herself is not from the country – apparently she has never set foot there. This is but the latest in a trend of outsourcing of REDD matters to non-nationals, often at considerable expense and nearly always to the detriment of the interests of the people of PNG. As Thomas Paka of Eco-Forestry Forum points out, how can such a strategy build the local skills and competencies required to run a sustainable national REDD program? Why are these resources spent on exorbitant consultancies instead of practical, domestic readiness activities?
PNG’s civil society representatives continue to gain respect through their frank, constructive engagement at these talks. There is clearly no shortage of home-grown talent which could enrich the delegation. For the time being, they can only stand by and watch as PNG’s opportunity for international influence and investment diminishes. Don’t blame them.
Ben Vickers, 6 October 2010