Progressio development worker Innocent Ogaba, who works with small scale farmers in drought-hit southern Malawi, has returned home after attending climate change talks in Bonn. Here he answers some questions:

The talks ended in failure. Was it as depressing as all that?

Innocent: Much better outcomes had been hoped for and many people said it was a failure, but I still have hope for good decisions at the big conference in Cancun in November.  On the first day of the talks countries were saying in their opening speeches: ‘It’s time to act, it’s time to act’. There was a lot of excitement and hope. On the second day, there was progress on some issues. But on the third and fourth days you could see the frustration on the faces of the delegates.

So what went wrong?

Innocent: People were just not compromising. The different countries were coming from very uncompromising positions and at the end of the day they ended up bickering with each other. Nobody wanted to concede or compromise. For example, developing countries tried to make the emissions targets they had agreed to in Copenhagen voluntary. Some issues that people thought had been resolved at past talks were back on the table for discussion. Yes, the negotiations are too complex, but I think maybe there is too much political direction from back home. Maybe negotiators sent to the talks who might want to concede ground have a gun held to their heads by their own countries who say: “this is our position”. So, in the end there is little room for the negotiators to manoeuvre.

As someone who works with some of the poorest people in Malawi, did these talks help you in any way?

Innocent:  It was very helpful for me to lobby country delegates and realise how best to influence them and try to get issues that are important to the people I work with – such as water and climate change – higher up the agenda of the climate talks.  I had meetings with delegates from a number of countries including Sweden, Malawi and Uganda. Many of them are convinced of the need for water to be given a higher profile in the ‘negotiating text’, because at the moment it is only briefly mentioned. So I am now better equipped back here in Malawi to keep up the lobbying and to push hard for water issues to be taken more seriously in the negotiations to come.

How relevant were these talks to your daily work back in Malawi?

They could not be more relevant. I am working on a project in Salima where climate change is causing farming families’ harvests to drop by up to 50%. They do not have enough food. They tell me that sometimes the rains are late and sometimes they don’t come at all. And this is in a region where 80% of the people rely on agriculture for food.  So I am encouraging the communities to grow more drought resistant crops than the traditional maize - crops such as sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes.

While in Bonn I discovered important information about what kind of financing is available globally for climate change-related projects. So this is something we can work on back here in Malawi as a Progressio team.

You appear far from dispirited by the Bonn experience

Innocent: I have not been put off and I have not given up hope of good decisions at the Cancun summit. People are willing to talk and make progress, but there needs to be more give and take in key areas. You cannot have everything you want all the time. The approach that says “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” will never work because it is so hard to get 100% agreement on everything. If countries can agree certain things in Cancun like finance and adaptation, that will be progress.  Maybe other issues like carbon emissions reduction under the Kyoto Protocol, which is more contentious, can be agreed afterwards.

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