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Saturday, 26 January 2013

IPBES Day 5: Oliver Twist and Catch 22 come to life

(disclaimer: The following text represents personal accounts of ipbes and do not attempt to represent the view of SCB-ES as a whole)

One after the other, the distinguished delegates state what contribution their government is willing to commit to in securing the funding for IPBES. UK, France and Canada kindly even specify the sums. Europe expresses its happiness to “continue supporting IPBES, provided that they manage to secure the existence of the EU”, if I am to take a crude quote.

It might be rather difficult for IPBES to discuss finances with no concrete information on sums, and thus Mr Vice Chair thanks our distinguished delegates and reminds us that he shall come back to ask for more, just like Oliver Twist.

“Please, Sir, I want some more”, says Oliver. I wonder, can Mr Vice Chair recall the grave consequence of this request? Oliver was kicked out of the orphanage. I hope of course that this would not be the case here…

Apart from finances, rules of procedures and institutional discussions, today we finally learned the final vote on the members of the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (the MEP). I wish not elaborate on how the interests for regional and national representations dominated over the well-texted wish to achieve a balance between disciplines, as well as a fair representation of women. Norway and others already expressed this disappointment. Instead, I wish to salute to the elected candidates, congratulate Andras Baldi for being elected a member (or should I say, congratulate SCB-ES for having Andras on board), and trust that they will together do an excellent job in scoping the route for the actual work of the IPBES. In the meantime, the process is now discussed and a different procedure would hopefully be proposed.

19:30, evening session of the Plenary. The hall is as full as it could be: It’s time to finally decide on the election of a Chair to replace the vice Chair who led the discussions so far. As put earlier by one of the delegates, the problem can be summarized by the question “single chair or revolving chair; thank you chair”.

4 days of intense yet futile discussions culminate as Mexico states: “we maintain our opinion from the morning”. Vice Chair: “can you please remind me what opinion you expressed this morning? It’s evening now…”

After another rotation of questions to inspect if consensus was achieved (no!), vice Chair gives up: “I am sorry but in accordance to Rule 22 the Plenary is going to elect for a chair by voting”.
Agitation in the audience: he is going to apply Rule 22! Rule 22! Hands are raised, pleads are made, and Mexico suggests to give it a last chance and try to achieve a decision through the help of an objective facilitator. Only some minutes, perhaps?

Chair insists: We have put enough time into it. This is what Rule 22 is for.
Please? Just a tiny, wee bit of time? Like, 5 minutes? That is to say, 15? And 5 more to get to the room and 5 back? That is, 30?

And here we are left alone, 15 of the delegates run into a small negotiation room in the back, and among us we bet: will a decision be made, or will the horror of Rule 22, that is, voting (!), be applied?
I personally never knew that voting can be such a horror in some cultures, so here’s my food for thoughts for the day. Can we apply democratic philosophy when bringing together all nations? Anyway, that’s the point where I am particularly pleased to be merely an observer.
Joseph Heller would have enjoyed the coincidence: the trap of a circular debate was capture perfectly by Rule 22, sorry, Catch 22: you may halt discussions that turned futile by applying the rule, but for that you need to agree to apply it, which you would not agree to do if the voting applies the same rational, or philosophy, which failed in bringing a constructive solution from the first place. Hence, it cannot be applied.  If that wasn’t clear, then I made my point: Delegates got stuck in the negotiation room, to allow us all plenty of time to reflect on the idea.
Having given up on waiting, around 22:30 on the way to the hotel one of us got the SMS informing that the distinguished negotiators succeeded in coming to the decision to continue in the morning.
Good night to you all, and thank you for reviving long-forgotten memories.


Bege Jonsson said...

Thanks Guy,

On the spot and exemplifying the absurdity in some of these meetings. I think the Rule 22 horror should be understood from a perspective national independence. If international processes would take decision by majority vote it would clearly interfere with sovereignty of the states. This would make sense when deciding on international law, but this is not what IPBES is and represent! I wish that countries would not send delegates that spent a large time of their life as negotiators but instead those who understand the meaning and point of a better interaction between science and poloicy.

Bege Jonsson

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