Midnight Negotiations, oh my!

Sitting next to a delegate for the Holy See, waiting for the 11pm Preparatory Committee Plenary Briefing at Rio +20 to start….midnight negotiations, oh my!

And what a long day IT has been. Negotiations ran from 10am to 10pm here at the Riocentro facility in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on topics including from Gender, the Green Economy, Chemicals, Food Security, Biodiversity, Oceans, the SDGs, Sustainable Cities, Methods of Implementation, and more. The “Pre-Text” of the Conference (which officially takes place from June 20-22nd) has been heatedly debated in a number of “informal-informal” sessions beginning in January by country delegates. The final three days for debate before the text was to be turned over to the “big bosses” (e.g. the likes of Prime Ministers and Presidents) has almost officially expired–it was slated to end tonight. In fact, the concerned Rio +20 Co-Chairs met with the negotiation Facilitators just this morning in order to urge them to “push” the proceedings on as best they could, and to be as firm as possible.

As the alternate typist for the UN Secretariat at two of the negotiation splinter groups today–Desertification/Chemicals and Food Security et al–as well as an audience member for Green Economy and Gender, I was able to witness this determination on the part of the Facilitators first-hand. In a desperate attempt to find accord on one paragraph, one Facilitator from the US entreated, “If we can go ‘ad ref’ on this paragraph, EU,” said one US Facilitator, “I will give you this piece of chocolate!” The Facilitator then flourished a piece of dark chocolate that some Secretariat rep had smartly dropped off at the room to keep their employees wits afloat. Unfortunately, the EU stood firm on that point.

–Let me interject at this point that it is pretty intimidating to be an on-screen typist for these sessions. It is a technical art of sorts: brackets here, slashes for alternatives, bolding for additions, “agreed ad ref” for finalized text….it goes on and on.  If you need to delete or move sections, forty delegates and numerous audience members turn and watch in silence as you smoothly (or not so smoothly) carve into stone the new version of text with each press of the key. We’ll not discuss my one or two bloopers, but let’s just say that commas–which I believe the entire process has sorely abused–are QUITE significant.

So here we are: 11:30pm. The Preparatory Committee Plenary Briefing has commenced and each Facilitator is reporting to the Co-Chairs on the progress of the negotiations and the core issues which remain. Facilitator Chip Barber from the Food Security group reported to the Co-Chairs, “Imagine, if you will a 17-hour flight…in economy class, where the screens only play a static comprised of words in brackets”, before continuing on to the progress made. According to the reports, much has been resolved, but not enough for the Co-Chairs to be satisfied. From here, the text is supposed to be turned over to the Brazilians in order to attempt to fix what issues remain with the text (as many sections still contain a mess of bracketed text), and then will go for perusal by Presidents Hollande, Putin, Sirleaf and the many other high-level officials arriving next week.

So what now? Why, midnight negotiations, of course! And perhaps tomorrow, and tomorrow night, and as many consecutive hours as it takes to clean up the text before the Big Cheeses roll into Riocentro….What better pressure on country representatives to cave on various points than to hijack them from their hotel beds? Although I don’t know how much the “spirit of good will” –the number one reason negotiators appear to grudgingly yield on items of contention–continues after midnight….Here’s hoping they have a bit left.