Supporting new LDC negotiators in the UN climate negotiations: what’s at stake?

As part of an ongoing capacity-building project, IIED and partners are supporting 12 new climate negotiators from least developed countries (LDCs) to build their negotiating skills. Here, IIED’s Fatou Diabate – a former new climate negotiator for Angola – explains how this support is helping to level the playing field for LDCs in international climate change negotiations.

Fatou Diabate's picture
Insight by 
Fatou Diabate
Researcher in IIED’s Climate Change research group
01 November 2023
Woman sitting at a table speaks to a microphone. A sign saying "Benin" stands in front of her.

New negotiator Joy Marlène Kodo (front centre) reporting back to the LDC Group and chair on adaptation during the LDCs coordination meeting at SB58 in Bonn, Germany in June 2023 (Photo: IIED)

As a former new climate negotiator, I know from personal experience the difficulties that least developed countries (LDCs) face when participating in the international climate change negotiations. The tremendous, fast-paced and fast-growing process does not benefit all nations equally.

Negotiators from the countries most vulnerable to climate change – specifically LDCs – can struggle to make their voices heard. Due to lack of financial resources, LDC delegations are usually much smaller compared to those from developed countries, which limits their ability to participate in discussions on all agenda items. 

In addition, LDC delegates also face another major constraint: the language barrier, both in terms of the jargon and complicated terms used, and since for most LDC delegates, English is not their first language. Ultimately, this unlevel field is hampering the ability of LDCs to influence crucial outcomes and decisions at the international climate talks.

We know that LDC climate negotiators must be better supported. To help achieve this, in 2023, IIED and partners launched a new capacity-building training and support package for new negotiators to attend climate change negotiation conferences and associated subsidiary bodies meetings. This project builds on over a decade of experience of working with and supporting the Least Developed Countries Group (LDC Group) in climate talks. Our objective is to provide direct support for new negotiators that will help them build their skills to engage more effectively in negotiations.

Selecting the new negotiators

With only 12 places available, choosing which new climate negotiators to support involved a tough selection process. In March 2023, following an open call to support LDC delegates who are new to the UNFCCC processes, IIED received 275 applications. This high number reflects both the need – and the appetite – of prospective new LDC negotiators for more support.

Throughout, we strived to make our selection process transparent and fair. We prioritised women because women are underrepresented in the climate change negotiations. We used established criteria so that LDC delegates who are new to climate change negotiations had an opportunity to be part of the process, to make their voices heard and to contribute to the visibility of the LDC Group in climate negotiation rooms. 

We specifically looked at the number of negotiation sessions that candidates had previously attended (not more than two, including both UNFCCC and subsidiary body sessions) and their motivations.

Regional representation was also key in the selection process: eight candidates are from Anglophone and Francophone African countries and four are from the Asia-Pacific region. While our primary focus was to support women negotiators, two outstanding male candidates also joined our cohort of 12.

How the support package works

Each new negotiator receives a one-year support package, consisting of training workshops and individual mentoring from experienced LDC negotiators. The package has already enabled them to attend the 58th subsidiary bodies to the UNFCCC session (SB58) international climate conference in Bonn, Germany in June 2023. They will also attend the upcoming UN climate negotiations (COP28) from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Each new negotiator is accredited by their country’s UNFCCC national focal point to attend these climate change conferences.

A good example of the support package’s training workshops is the media training we provided for our new negotiators ahead of the SB58. It included how to shape and communicate their arguments to the media and how to simplify complex jargon when reporting back to others outside of the negotiations, such as their national focal point. 

As one participant said of the media training: “This is a crucial training for young negotiators because it helps us to think outside the box [and] urges us to prepare and practice to face the media anytime.”

We regularly assess our new negotiators’ progress through reports they are required to submit following their participation in the negotiation sessions. We also use these reports to improve our support and the mentoring scheme. 

During their time away at conferences, we ensure that our new negotiators also have daily catch-up sessions together and with the IIED team. This creates a safe space where they can express themselves and share their experiences, but also gives the opportunity for the team to check on their wellbeing.

Finally, the mentoring scheme is implemented in collaboration with the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and is supported by the LDC Group, including its chair Madeleine Diouf Sarr. In a recent interview with IIED, Madeleine stressed the paramount importance of the mentoring scheme for new negotiators, and most importantly for women.

Leading up to COP28: what’s next? 

As part of their ongoing capacity development and in the lead up to COP28, we will continue to work with WEDO and plan to organise a peer-exchange webinar for our cohort of new negotiators. In addition, and following a similar webinar held in March earlier this year, we plan to hold a second webinar before COP28 with national focal points under the leadership of the LDC Group.

The webinar will enable us to share progress on our capacity-building activities, the importance of supporting women as negotiators, and how the programme can also support national-level capacity strengthening. It will also be an opportunity for national focal points to share their views on and recommendations for the programme.