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How do little countries make themselves heard at the COP21?

Jacques Demarthon, AFP | Comoros President Ikililou Dhoinine addressed COP21 summit near Paris on November 30, 2015

News coverage of the COP21 climate talks in Paris, as in all major international summits, tends to focus on the big players. But smaller countries, like Comoros, refuse to be squeezed out.


special correspondent at the COP 21 climate conference

The key United Nations conference in the French capital kicked off on November 30 with what Buzzfeed called the the "Best Diplomatic Photobomb of All Time".

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shook hands - reportedly for the first time in half a decade - Comoran President Ikililou Dhoinine snuck into the photo frame in epically-comic fashion.

Three days later, Ismael Bachirou, Comoros' Director General of the Environment and Forests, was tired of addressing what he claimed had been a "non-event". For the umpteenth time, he denied Dhoinine had intentionally sabotaged the moment to draw attention to his small island nation off the coast of Mozambique.

"It was pure coincidence", Bachirou told FRANCE 24. "It was in no way a premeditated thing."

The official admitted that small countries like Comoros were at a disadvantage at big global meetings, especially when it comes to addressing trade and business matters, but insisted they had learned to stand their ground in the big diplomatic schoolyard.

Tickets with a flexible return

Bachirou has been to six previous UN climate summits before the Paris talks, which will wrap up on December 11. By now, he and fellow Comoros delegates have learned a few, important lessons to help them advance their positions.

Perhaps the most important tip is to join as many recognised UN groups as possible, which gives them more weight at the different COP21 negotiating tables. Comoros is part of the African Group, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Group of 77 and China, among other affiliations.

Each of these groups has a designated representative that argues points on behalf of member states in front of representatives from other groups, such as the European Union.

Bachirou said it was then critical to be a part of preparatory meetings before conferences started, and to stay involved during negotiations. "For example, if we disagree with, say, South Africa, we insist that our position also be recorded and expressed during negotiations. There are no veto powers within groups, or at the COP, so consensus has to be found," he said.

He also pointed out that negotiations rarely, if ever, end on schedule. "We have learned to buy airplane tickets with a return date a few days after the event is supposed to end. In the past, while smaller delegations have been forced to return home, the big countries have struck deals without us."

'Last chance'

At the COP21 summit now underway, Comoros is pushing for language in the final deal which makes it clear that 50 percent of funds go to adaptation of developed countries, and which mentions the "historical responsibility" of developed countries for current pollution levels.

Wealthier countries are especially afraid of the second point, because, as Bachirou noted, "they are afraid they could face international justice in the future".

Bachirou admits that negotiations have been advancing at a painfully slow pace in Paris, but says this is understandable.

"This will not be the last time to act for climate change, but all the parties agree that this is the last chance to get a binding, global deal," he said.

It is all the more reason, especailly for little countries like Comoros, to get the best deal possible.

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