Climate Talks: VIPs Need ESP for UN ABCs

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Jumbled fridge magnet capital and small letters. Illustration by Bloomberg

The 190 nations assembled in Durban for the UN climate talks are not expected to reach a binding global agreement. Yet they do speak a common tongue. If you can read this, you might be chagrined (or relieved) to learn that it's not English. Nor do they speak French. Nor Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans or any other of South Africa's 11 official languages.

They speak climate jargon, the offspring created by mating the UN bureaucracy with the energy industry, scientific community and nongovernmental organizations. It's an impediment to wide public debate of well-established facts and as such, deserves some scrutiny.

It's the sixth time I've attended the year-end conference, and the array of acronyms remains bewildering. The alphabet soup may help shorten some pretty cumbersome names, but they also make the talks impenetrable to the everyman on the street, or the first-time attendee.

“Acronyms are the way that climate negotiators make it so nobody else can understand what’s going on,” Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, said in an interview in Durban. “It justifies that they’re the ones who need to go.”

Begin with the event's name, COP17/CMP7. That's short for the 17th Conference of Parties-slash – well, it's not immediately clear what the letters CMP stands for. The parties are nations. They are party to the UNFCCC, or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That's the 1992 agreement to prevent "dangerous anthropogenic interference" in the climate system.

Talks are split into two main tracks --the AWG-KP and the AWG-LCA. KP nations are divided into TWO categories: Annex I and Annex II, which are often intuitively called non-Annex I nations.

There are also two forums that cover technical, scientific and administrative matters: The SBI and SBSTA.

The greenhouse gases they’re trying to regulate are CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6. Topics for discussion include the MRV, ICA and the GCF. And that's not including, REDD, REDD+ or LULUCF (usually pronounced Lulu Cee Eff).

The countries that send envoys to the talks are divided into various blocs, including the EU, the G77 and China, AOSIS, which is composed mainly of SIDS, the LDCs, OPEC and the EIG. The Umbrella Group thankfully isn’t reduced to UG. There’s also an array of UN bodies in attendance, including the WMO, the IPCC, the FAO and UNEP.

A glance at the daily program unearths even more combinations of letters, detailing meetings for YOUNGOs, BINGOs, RINGOs, TUNGOs and IPOs. The latter may excite the interest of a few Bloomberg readers, but they’re not Initial Public Offerings.

The Nov. 29 agenda can be found in the document called FCCC/2011/IV/OD/2. But don't read that version. It's missing the corrigendum, or -- wait, paging Merriam-Webster -- "an error in a printed work discovered after printing and shown with its correction on a separate sheet." The corrected version can be found in document FCCC/2011/IV/OD/2/Corr.1.

There are plenty more acronyms I haven’t detailed – but for the record, the new one I’ve learned this year is LGMA, local governments and municipal authorities.

I’ve also seen offices for ENGOs and INGOs, which I assume are groupings of non-governmental organizations (perhaps extroverted and introverted?) but I haven’t yet ascertained that. It's just too hard to get comfortable with the LINGO.

Glossary:
UNFCCC -- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
COP17/CMP7 -- the 17th Conference of the Parties (to the UNFCCC) and the 7th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
COP/MOP -- (See CMP above)
AWG-KP -- Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol
AWG-LCA -- Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention
SBI -- Subsidiary Body for Implementation
SBSTA -- Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice
CO2 -- Carbon Dioxide
CH4 -- Methane
N2O -- Nitrous Oxide
HFCs -- Hydrofluorocarbons
PFCs -- Perfluorocarbons
SF6 -- Sulfur hexafluoride
KP -- Kyoto Protocol
MRV -- Monitoring, Reporting and Verification
ICA -- International Consultation and Analysis
GCF -- Green Climate Fund
REDD -- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
REDD+ -- as above, but with conservation an sustainability thrown in.
LULUCF -- Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry
EU -- European Union
G77 -- Stands for the Group of 77 (developing nations), but membership has expanded to 131 since its formation in 1964.
AOSIS -- Alliance of Small Island states
SIDS -- Small Island Developing States
LDCs -- Least Developed Countries
OPEC -- Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
EIG -- Environmental Integrity Group
UN -- United Nations
WMO -- World Meteorological Organization
IPCC -- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
FAO -- Food and Agriculture Organization
UNEP -- United Nations Environment Program
FCCC/2011/IV/OD/2 -- I’m not even going to try to unpick this one.
YOUNGOs -- Youth Non-Governmental Organizations
BINGOs -- Business Non-Governmental Organizations
RINGOs -- Research and Independent Non-Governmental
Organizations
TUNGOs -- Trade Union Non-Governmental Organizations
IPOs -- Indigenous Peoples Organizations
LGMA -- Local Government and Municipal Authorities

And for the record:
CMP -- Conference and Meeting of the Parties.
ENGO -- Environmental Non-Governmental Organization
INGO -- International Non-Governmental Organization

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