UN climate talks: how new negotiators benefit from media training

As part of IIED’s work to support strengthening the skills of new climate negotiators from the least developed countries, Camilla More explains how media training is giving them the expertise and confidence to effectively engage with the media – and communicate key messages – during the international climate change negotiations.

Camilla More's picture
Blog by 
Camilla More
Researcher in IIED’s Climate Change research group
24 October 2023
Four women smiling at the camera.

Negotiators enjoying time off by the river in Bonn. From left to right: Marlène Kodo from Benin; Lalaina Ambinistsoa from Madagascar; Hortense Traoré from Burkina Faso; and Sandra Isingizwe from Rwanda (Photo: Jéremy Davis, IIED)

The UNFCCC has a language of its own. And it doesn’t take long for those of us immersed in the process to start speaking it fluently. But we mustn’t forget that for the rest of the world, many of the commonly used terms and acronyms carry absolutely no meaning.

In the language of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Parties (countries) don’t cut emissions, they ‘mitigate’. They don’t set targets for emissions reductions, they submit ‘nationally determined contributions’. With UNFCCC decisions requiring consensus, these terms have been carefully negotiated precisely for their ambiguity. So using them to communicate clear messages is hardly helpful – which is why media training for new negotiators is really important.

Through the media, the public is informed and governments are held accountable. If governments can get away with a weak outcome from climate change negotiations that doesn’t commit them to any action, they very well might try.

But when there is pressure from the outside – such as when the Least Developed Countries Group (LDCs) helped build a narrative in the lead up to COP27 that it would be a failure to leave Sharm El-Sheikh without establishing a fund for addressing loss and damage caused by climate change – real breakthroughs can be achieved.

As part of our programme to strengthen the abilities of new climate negotiators from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to engage effectively in the UNFCCC process, IIED provided a media training ahead of SB58 for the programme’s 12 new negotiators (exhibit A of how easy it is to slip into the jargon… SB58 refers to the 58th meetings of the ‘subsidiary bodies to the UNFCCC, or the Bonn Climate Change Conference, held in June 2023). Our aim was to improve the confidence of these new negotiators in interviews and in engaging with the media more generally.

What the media training involved

For our new negotiators, the interactive media training was an opportunity to develop and hone their media skills. It was held over two half-days and conducted in parallel in both French and English. It set out why and when it might be useful to share messages through the media, how social media can be used effectively (something I can preach but don’t often practice), and our top tips for communicating UNFCCC issues to a much broader audience.

To practice ‘not speaking UNFCCC’, we gave participants a list of some of the LDC Group’s specific expectations for the negotiations in Bonn. We then tasked them with translating each from ‘UNFCCC’ into English (or French, in the case of the training happening in parallel).

We thought this might be difficult; from our experience with more senior negotiators (some of whom have spent decades in the process) we know that it can be hard to switch off the technical talk to explain your point in a way the ‘outside’ can easily understand: negotiators love to talk about NAPs, work programmes, 2.1c and the WIM.

But the new negotiators excelled at developing clear and powerful messaging. Fairly fresh to the UNFCCC process and acutely aware of the very real consequences these negotiations have for their communities and their futures (and of course having just taken our training, which we like to believe had something to do with it), they were each able to spell out in simple terms what it was all about.

We then spent some time carrying out and videoing mock interviews where they could practice communicating their key priorities and answering (or expertly avoiding) slightly trickier questions, before watching each back for participants to learn from one another and provide very friendly (gushing!) feedback as well as some kind and constructive criticism.

Media training with Marlène Joy Kodo. You can also watch this video on IIED's YouTube channel

Why media training is so important

Climate change negotiations can be incredibly overwhelming. There are dozens of different discussions going on in different rooms about different issues to develop hundreds of pages of decision texts each session.

There’s plenty to learn for those new to the process: the many agenda items under various bodies and what they’re about. The country groupings and their broad priorities. How to read the daily schedule and where to find past decision texts and submissions on the UNFCCC website. Why some meetings are called ‘contact groups’ and others are called ‘infs’. The critical difference between the meaning of ‘shall’ and ‘should’. And what time you need to get to the conference centre before the free chocolate runs out.

But as well as learning all of this and more, developing skills in being able to communicate what’s happening inside the negotiating rooms, why it matters, and what outcomes are needed to achieve real change on the outside, can play an important role in negotiating those critical decisions on the inside.

Looking ahead

We had a great two days during the media training, and it was hugely inspiring to work with such passionate and committed individuals, all so eager to learn and take as much away from their time in Bonn as possible.

Our 12 new negotiators will also have an opportunity to put their new skills into practice at the upcoming 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We also hope that their experiences will inspire a fresh cohort of new climate negotiators to apply to the programme in 2024.

Learn more about the work IIED is doing to strengthen the skills of new climate negotiators from the LDCs. If you’re interested in helping fund IIED to continue work under this initiative, contact Brianna Craft (brianna.craft@iied.org).