“Trust Your Mexican” – Reflections on Mexico as Host of COP16

by Anjali Appadurai

The other day our delegation went to Puerto Morelos to meet with Doreen. Moises had the address and was leading us. We were unfamiliar with the area but we knew that her house number was #806. However, the street we were walking on had numbers starting at #10. We were convinced that we were going the wrong way even though Moises insisted that he knew where we were going. In the end, after some contention, we realized that he was indeed correct, and that the street numbers had inexplicably jumped from #15 to #796. We took away a lesson from that – or rather, Moises reminded us to “always trust your Mexican.”

Keeping this mantra in mind we entered the negotiations in Cancun. The Mexican government, as the president of this year’s COP, has the daunting task of facilitating agreement amongst a cacophony of voices from 192 countries, each with their own concerns, obligations and interests. I wondered, when I got here, about the role of the host country in these negotiations. Upon further investigation, I found out that the host country has the power to invite certain ministers of certain countries – ministers who they may believe to be more useful or compliant than others in the negotiating process. It also leaked that some ministers were invited early (this past weekend as opposed to Tuesday when they would normally arrive for the High Level Segment) for a “dinner” with the COP president Patricia Espinosa. With rising scepticism I also heard reports of “green room” meetings where certain delegates are invited to draft statements that are then later floated in the plenary session, taking countries who were not involved in the process by surprise. Such backroom deals are not considered legally appropriate, since they infringe on a country’s sovereign right to be represented by no one without giving permission. For select countries to draft papers without the input of all countries who would be affected goes against the principle of sovereignty (and in my opinion, morality – but morality seems to lie outside the realm of international climate politics).

In Saturday’s stocktaking plenary session, the G77 gave a very strong statement on the process that they wanted to see in the upcoming week of negotiations. From what I had heard of the process in Copenhagen last year, there had been a lot of backroom deals, select groups of countries making decisions, and a surprise last-minute text floated by the Dutch government at 3am one morning in the plenary session. The G77 on Saturday was adamant that there would be a more transparent and fairer process this year. The plenary ran two hours late that day, and a last-minute stocktaking plenary for the CMP was scheduled for Sunday morning. It was clear in Saturday’s plenary that Espinosa (the president) had been backed into a corner and exposed for trying to influence the process of negotiations by fabricating meetings with select countries (The Phillipines politely mentioned that their minister was present but hadn’t seemed to receive an invitation to the dinner with Espinosa – they were sure it was a mistake but could she please look into it? That made some people chuckle). On Sunday morning, however, she was ready with a statement that she read out loud in English, promising a “commitment by all to transparency and inclusiveness.” In her cautiously crafted statement, she promised that the ministers who have recently arrived will “not be expected to draft compromise language, but [will] help identify where balance is to be found,” and that the ministers will “not convene informal sessions of any sort, but will instead approach every delegation they believe ought to be consulted at each specific moment and remain accessible to all.” This seemed reassuring at the time, especially when  Espinosa continued to say that she had paired up ministers – one developed country minister with one developing country minister – to work on specific issues such as finance, capacity building and mitigation. This would help to make the process more well-rounded and inclusive. Parts of Espinosa’s statement were very encouraging:“As I stated yesterday, there will be no separate or parallel Ministerial process, no selective segmentation of issues, and no duplication of negotiations. The Mexican Presidency will help facilitate communication among ministers, through constant dialogue with all, with the Chairs, with the groups, and with individual delegations. We will also assist Ms. Mukahanana and Amb. Ashe [the chairs of the AWG-LCA and the AWG-KP, respectively] in their always capable coordination of the efforts within each group. Once again, I must state that there is no hidden text and no secret negotiations. The Mexican Presidency will continue to work with full transparency and according to established United Nations procedures.”

Of the aforementioned dinner with ministers, she wrote “Ministerial-level representatives from all over the world are already in Cancun. Yesterday I offered a welcoming dinner to them, in which no papers were distributed and no negotiations took place.” On the way out of the plenary, however, Doreen ran into the Chinese delegate present in the plenary, and he told her that he had just earlier received a text message with an invitation from the Mexican government to another green room discussion. It seems that the green room discussions are still taking place legally as “informal consultations,” but hopefully there will be more transparent outcomes from them now. Although it is unsettling that there can still be meetings of select countries, I consider Espinosa’s statement to be an encouraging first step.

It is with optimism and trepidation at once that we wait to see what will happen in the final week of negotiations here in Cancun. With the presidency of the COP outlining a more transparent process and major groups like the G77 at the ready to defend this process, we can hope that the negotiations will proceed smoothly and without much corruption. As observers in this process, all we may do at this point is “trust our Mexican.”

Patricia Espinosa, President of COP16/CMP6

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