Youth Constituency “Silenced” on the First Day of SB48-2 Bangkok Climate Change Conference

United Nations Conference Centre, Bangkok, Thailand

The slow progress of the SB48 session at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in May 2018 called for a continuation of the session in Bangkok, Thailand from 4th to 9th September. Also known as SB48-2, the Bangkok Climate Change Conference reconvened the sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), to speed up the progress of the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP), to hopefully achieve the operationalization of the monumental 2015 Paris Agreement.

The first day of SB48-2 kicked off with an opening ceremony, attended by His Excellency Mr. Frank Bainimarama, President of COP 23/CMP 13/CMA 1.2, His Excellency General Surasak Kanchanarat, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Kingdom of Thailand, Mr. Michal Kurtyka, President Designate of COP 24, Ms. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Mr. Kaveh Zahedi, Officer in Charge of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). It is followed by a joint plenary by SBSTA, SBI and APA.

Under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) observer organisations are recognized and also attend sessions of the COP and its subsidiary bodies. According to UNFCCC, observers may attend meetings of the COP and subsidiary bodies without the right to vote, unless at least one-third of the Parties object, and may take interventions during meetings, subjected to the approval of the Chairperson. However, in the past couple of years at the UNFCCC negotiations, there has always been a slot at main plenaries for observers to partake in interventions, as a platform for inclusivity in the negotiating process to make all voices heard.

The Malaysian Youth Delegation, as part of the Youth Constituency (YOUNGO), has taken the opportunity to give interventions at previous COPs (click here & here). We believe on the importance of getting our voices heard, and getting the message across. This time round, as usual, all constituencies has prepped on their 2 minutes intervention text to be delivered at the Joint Opening Plenary of SBSTA-SBI-APA. Little did we know that things took an interesting turn of events.

The Joint Plenary ran late into lunchtime and Parties decided that they have no time to waste, and wanted to get straight to work. They unanimously agreed to have no verbal statements, and that their written statements are to be uploaded online. This ad-hoc decision was supported by the Co-Chairs, and they decided to wrap things up in the plenary so that the Parties could start negotiating. The SBSTA Chair decided to approach the observers to inform them of the updates. The news was received well by all constituencies, except for one.

SBSTA Chair approaching constituencies at the Joint Plenary session

For YOUNGO, to cancel an intervention at a plenary session is like taking away a child from a home. Giving an intervention is perceived as the most basic rights a constituency to have, for them to openly express their views on the COP or subsidiary session. As the UNFCCC highly regards inclusivity in its processes with acknowledging and prioritizing vulnerable groups, this measure of action is deemed unacceptable to a constituency who values the importance of the open platform. Cancelling the intervention is like confiscating the right to speak.

The frustration that arose from YOUNGO led to a confrontational session between YOUNGO representatives and the SBSTA and SBI Co-Chair. SBSTA Chair expressed that the confrontation  was rather uncomfortable for him to have, but a much needed session as he values the input given by YOUNGO. However, he did reiterate that in the absence of time, it is wise to quickly move forward so that Parties could do their work.

The SBI Chair further chimed in and admitted that they have a lot of things on their plate, and that they were pressured into making difficult decisions, knowing that it is almost difficult to please everyone. He thoroughly apologized and ensure that it will not happen again.

Both YOUNGO representatives and Co-Chairs eventually agreed that this act of muting the observer organisations, even though how ad hoc it is, will not take precedence in future sessions.

With Intergenerational equity at stake, youth is considered the most vulnerable group in the plenary hall. Looking at the overall picture – yes, we do want progress to accelerate in order to achieve the objectives set in the first place, especially in the PAWP. However, is silencing the vulnerable the right way forward?

Written by Jasmin

Edited by Daniel

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