My Bonn, Germany Experience!!!

12 August 2011

Pelenise Alofa
Kiribati Climate Action Network

It was my first time in Germany!  My first experience (frustrating) at the airport trying to find my way to my hotel in Bonn.  My first experience with the CAN International Southern Capacity Building at the UNFCCC. It was also my first experience to be robbed. Mona Matepi (Cook Islander) and I bought ice cream and later when I looked for my purse, it was gone.  Someone had pick pocketed me while shopping! Well, there will always be the first time for everybody but Bonn was a multiple of first experiences for me.

But not all is gloomy…..Bonn, was actually the beginning of exciting experiences. Our first meeting with the lovely young people in the SCB team was wonderful and exciting. Each person came from different parts of the Global South and each was able to take up his/her responsibility with enthusiasm and professionalism.  It was not my first time attending CAN-International sessions, but it was my first time to be involved with CAN-International as a participating member.  Things began to fall into perspective and to make sense.  During the previous CAN-I sessions I’ve attended…I was always confused when people gave reports because I did not know the procedures.  I was thankful for the opportunity to attend as a Southern Capacity Building member.

Yes, the UNFCCC could be very confusing and frustrating. It was like being in a marketplace (too much fuss and bustle), but everyone does one business: negotiation. But thanks to the advices and counsels provided by Gaines (during orientation) and the CAN-I Secretariat things became more clear.

I was supposed to do REDD+ and Capacity Building.  I ended up following most of the Capacity Building because, deep in my heart, I know that this is the key issue to help my people in the Pacific.  Working with Mona, Mamady and Pat was extremely valuable and rewarding. Pat is a well-experienced leader who knows the ins and outs of the Capacity Building issue.  I realized that Capacity Building (CB) was not treated as a major issue, but integrated into almost every other Climate Change (CC) issue. We ended up drawing a plan of action calling that CB should be developed in each CC window, and that funding should be spent on building capacity in developed and developing countries to meet local mitigation and adaptation needs.

Could Capacity Building lead to our Survival in the Pacific?
The impacts of CC have been seen and felt in our islands for many years, but our relationship to CC was not known.  When our coastal lands were eroded and line of trees fell, when our well water became saltier, when sea water intruded into our gardens, when it rained too much at the wrong time of the  year, when there was drought for too long, when our fishes got washed up dead on our shores, when the king tides swept over the island like a tidal wave, we wondered, do we need science to explain CC to us? We live in it day by day. Actually, today, it is part of our lives and we learn to adapt to the impacts as they come. In fact, we have stronger evidence or and stronger voices today to support us at the negotiation arena. We provide the facts of the impacts of CC while science explains the causes and effects and how they are related.
But CC is not just the science, the cause and effect.  It also involves negotiations, commitment, passion and time.  Most Pacific islanders have the passion and time, but not the negotiation skills. The lack of negotiation skills stems from a culture of sharing. We share the fruits of our land freely, thus land ownership is very important to us. Our survival depends on our lands and oceans, which provide our livelihood. We do not sell anything to our neighbors because selling is contradictory to sharing. The reality is that we lack the negotiation skills because negotiation goes beyond the boundary of our culture. The only negotiation we know is based on trust. We want people to trust us and vice versa. But alas, we are waking up to the fact that we live in a global village where everyone thinks differently and lives by different values. We are taught to give from the heart, but today we are in a world that sells, bargains, gambles, negotiates, etc.  What’s more, we are negotiating on a major crucial issue…the survival of our people. It is scary, terrifying and mind-boggling! It’s like jumping to the moon to bring it down to earth! Do we stand a chance to survive? I am sure we can, if we take capacity building seriously…by learning the skills of negotiations at a global level and integrate capacity building in every aspect of CC.

The Laughing Corner – A typical Kiribati Negotiation or Business Deal
I will try to explain a business or negotiation humor conducted in a typical Kiribati style. As I explained earlier, negotiation or business (selling) is not part of our culture.  An expatriate family was ready to leave Kiribati permanently after serving in the islands for four years so decided to hold a garage sale before leaving. This was completely new to the islanders but nevertheless, many people went to buy all the second hand things for sale. At the end of the day, two women came along to buy, but there was nothing left except two cats (ex-pat’s pets) and according to the ex-pat, one of the cats was pregnant which means, whoever buys it will make money by selling the kittens. One of the ladies spent her $50 on the two cats and carried them home.  Her husband was anxious to see what she bought but was very angry when he found that she bought two cats. He was upset because their house was already full of cats and dogs and having a pregnant cat would make it worse.  And furthermore, they cannot sell the kittens because no one sells animals (pets) in the islands.

Why did the lady buy the cats?  Simple answer, she wanted to help. She was shocked that the expat family was selling their goods including animals, which mean that they were really, really in need of money. The I-Kiribati was ready to help by buying everything including their pets even though they did not need these. The motive for buying was not to acquire and to accumulate goods, but rather to help someone who was in need. Do you think that we islanders have a chance at international negotiations with this attitude? Talk about cross culture!!!

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