Understanding UN Observer Process

I spent Wednesday and Thursday morning with the Indigenous People’s Caucus (“Caucus”).  As a neophyte to the UN and its processes, I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned.

The Caucus and its members come from around the world, representing Indigenous people in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Russia (as well as other parts of the world).  Members have recognized observer status within the UNFCC, the organizing body responsible for COP 16, and its formally known as the “International Indigenous Forum on Climate Change.”

Anyone with knowledge of the UN can speak to the number of acronyms that are associated with the UN system.  For example, Caucus member organizations are known as “Indigenous Peoples Organizations,” or “IPOs.”  Other observer organizations include youth (“YOUNGOs,” or “Youth non-governmental organizations”), business (“BINGOs” or “Business and industry non-governmental organizations”), trade unions (“TUNGOs” or “Trade unions non-governmental organizations”), and women (women’s groups are spared a silly acronym – would it be WINGOs?).

Kim Gottshalk, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (“NARF”), helped me find Caucus proceedings.  NARF is well known in the Native American community for its representation and advocacy of tribal interests, like the protection of the environment, and Kim has been participating in these international forums for some time.  Caucus meetings are held every day at 9 am, and proceedings are conducted in English and Spanish.  For non Spanish speakers, translation services are offered.  My Spanish is rusty, and I wore headphones.

Caucus activities are focused on two major areas: (1) the Kyoto Protocol and (2) Long term cooperative action (“LCA”).  These areas reflect the two major areas that negotiators are focusing on here.  The Caucus also has committees focusing on finance, REDD and other issues.  The Caucus itself seems to meet at every major UNFCC meeting.  During the course of both sessions that I sat in, members referred to decisions made at the Bonn and Tianjin conferences, which took place earlier this year.

Interestingly, Indigenous people are represented on different countries delegations.  If I heard correctly, the delegations of Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Guatemala have indigenous members.  It also sounds like Mexico is an ally for Indigenous issues.  As the Caucus develops recommendations and policies, they reach out to their contacts in these delegations, as well as the delegations of other countries, to state their concerns and make recommendations. It’s been pretty interesting, especially around policy issues.  I’ll write more about that later.


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