Dispatches from Durban: How Do You Spell “Climate Negotiations”?

People walk with a coffin as they protest against the usage of coal during a climate change conference at the city of Durban, South Africa, Thursday, Dec 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

I should have known I was about to be dumped into a vat of United Nations alphabet soup the moment I heard I was going to “COP17”. However, it wasn’t until opening my briefing book for this 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (that’s the UNFCCC for those keeping score at home)that I realized I was about to learn a new and foreign language.

Sure, the international climate scene uses words too—and climate dorks like me are familiar with jargon like “mitigation”, “adaptation”, and “technology transfer”. But there’s nothing intuitive about acronyms like BAP (that’s the Bali Action Plan—shorthand for agreements reached at a Conference of Parties aka COP several years ago in, well, Bali), nor CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibilities—this principle acknowledges that all of humanity is in fight against climate change together, but different countries have different responsibilities to reduce emissions based on past pollution levels, current development status and so forth).

As I write this blog a soaking rain falls on Durban, South Africa—this year’s home to the UN’s 17th annual Conference of Parties (or as the cool kids say: COP). Delegates from more than 190 nations will gather in this sea side city to continue working toward an international agreement that addresses the climate crisis. Thousands of activists, nonprofit organizations, reporters, government representatives, and interested folks from across the globe are similarly filling Durban’s hotels and bars, seeking to witness—if not influence—the proceedings. And whether they’ve been steeped in climate negotiations for decades or just a few days, they are quickly picking up Durban’s new dialect: climatespeak.

While I thought I was connecting from Johannesburg this morning, I’ve now learned I spent time in “Joburg”. And I’m actually not really in Durban—I’m in “Durbs”. Heck, I don’t even work for the US Climate Action Network—I’m with US CAN. And don’t be caught confusing the AWG-KP with the AWG-LCA (I won’t bore you with the details), or thinking that someone talking about “REDD” is describing her favorite color. Nope—she’s talking about Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and (forest) Degradation.

Stay tuned for more updates, and acronyms, from Durban as negotiations head into their final week.

AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam

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Natalia S.
Natalia S.3 years ago

really good article

K s Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence3 years ago

Anyway you spell it or say it it sucks!

Anne F.
Anne F.3 years ago

Glad you are getting acclimated - please find some of those activists and give us some details. I'd like to hear about great ideas.

Zee Kallah
Past Member 3 years ago

I don't want to spell.

I want to erase.

David Anderson
David Anderson3 years ago


Emma S.
Emma S.3 years ago

there are enough people who don't give a toss about climate change, without giving them another excuse! Less of the wonk-speak...

Robert O.
Robert O.3 years ago


Ben Oscarsito
Ben Oscarsito3 years ago


Ben Oscarsito
Ben Oscarsito3 years ago