Saskia McCulloch: The disadvantage of being small.

In the UN system each member state in the voting process counts as one. For example, China, Saudi Arabia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Fiji and New Zealand all have one vote each. 

This singular vote is given no matter how large or small the territory or population is, no matter how high or low GDP or poverty levels are, no matter how much each member state has a stake in the negotiations. This values sovereignty as the key identifier of power. 

This means every state is equal right?

No. That is not true at all. 

Three simple factors (but not all of them) that influence the negotiations here and make the voice of each state UNEQUAL:

1) Size of the delegation. 

Some delegations are about two people (Marshal Islands), some are about ten (Egypt), some are almost at 20 (New Zealand), and other states (such as Brazil) that have many more than that. This all depends on the financial situation, but also how much each state values the conference. Size largely influences the ability of the team to function well. For example, there are multiple negotiating streams and meetings to attend that all stretch the teams to the limit. Then there is the time factor. This is clear especially when it gets in to the last official days, and the unofficial days after the COP negotiations continue to the late hours of the night, sometimes to the next morning further stretching the ability of negotiating teams. 

2) Financial support of the delegation.

Finance. This seems simple. The more money, the more people can attend, right? Yes and no. More money means better hotels, better or more food, larger rooms for the negotiators inside the conference centre, nicer country rooms with tables/chairs/plants etc. Imagine if the 60 persons negotiation team had to fit into the same small room as the 2 person negotiation team. Imagine the horror when a developed country did not have flowers on their table in their room!

3) Education of the delegation. 

Some states have limited choice in who to send to the negotiations. For example, developed states have extensive education systems providing a wide array of people averagely or well prepared for negotiations. Whereas some other states have limited education and training to make sure their negotiators are as prepared as others. 

In some cases, either education and the financial costs small states choose to hire lawyers from other states to represent them at negotiations or have members of the UN represent their state. An example of this is the Marshal Islands and its two representatives who are Australian lawyers. 


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Posted on November 23, 2013 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2013.