Today in Bonn, another United Nations Climate Change Conference started with the objective to prepare for the UN Climate Conference in Cancun. What started at 10 am with the necessary ritualesque statements by delegates about the need for actions to combat climate change, changed one hour later to a completely different subject. The question up for discussion was how to sanction two green NGOs, the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) and Oxfam, for vandalizing UN property.

Two months earlier, during the preceding UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, at the UN controlled territory, members of Oxfam and WWF had taken Saudi Arabia’s name plate, broken it into two pieces, stuck into a toilet bowl, taken a picture of it and published and distributed the picture within the conference venue. It goes without saying that the short message accompanying the picture was criticising Saudi Arabia for its perceived negative role at the conference.

The UN secretariat investigated the matter and established that members of the two NGOs mentioned above committed this breach of conduct. Today, the new Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, told the delegates that the secretariat decided to sanction the wrong doing by banning one member from future conferences and suspending two for the remaining conferences this year. In addition, Oxfam and WWF may only register 3 members each at the upcoming October meeting. This would mean that both will only suffer a limitation in number at one of the less important events, but allow them full participation at this year’s major conference in Cancun.

Following Ms. Figueres statement, many delegates expressed their dissatisfaction with the moderate sanctions by the secretariat, especially in respect of previos incidents by WWF and Oxfam staff. Therefore many delegates “suggested” a number of more significant sanctions, including the complete exclusion of the two organisations from all future UNFCCC events. As far as a UN conference is capable of developing something like suspense, it all climaxed after the apologies by the president of WWF and a representative of Oxfam, when the Saudi delegate declared that after “listening to the clear apologies… We would like to see no further actions against them.” And added “We would like to see the case closed.” For once, the whole auditorium started to applaud.

This was definitely a positive ending to an incident that prompted debate about the role of civil society, the need for dissenting voices, respecting different opinions, and appropriate ways to deal with it. And it was especially interesting to hear the Saudi delegate earlier say that “Such practices belong to the 19th century, not our century”.

The current United Nations Climate Change Conference, officially know as the “thirteenth session of the AWG-KP and the eleventh session of the AWG-LCA” is taking place from Monday, 2 August to Friday, 6 August 2010 at the Hotel Maritim in Bonn and can be followed live on the internet: http://unfccc.int/virtual_participation/items/5678.php