Helping Guatemala in Copenhagen

ExpedCopWith hopes fading that countries will reach an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, it comes as some consolation that progress has been made to preserve the world’s forests.

On Wednesday, six of the world’s richest countries including the U.S., Australia and Japan announced they would pledge $3.5 billion to halt deforestation in developing countries.

Announcements like this don’t come out of thin air. They’re the result of countless hours spent by teams of researchers from both developed and developing countries who are crunching numbers and designing economic models.

Montrealer Jordan Isenberg, 23, is one of those researchers. While he isn’t Guatemalan, Isenberg is in Copenhagen as technical adviser to Guatemala’s delegation. He’s one of many citizens from richer countries joining smaller delegations to level the playing field at the negotiating table.

“Countries like Guatemala, for example, don’t have the same resources at home that a developed country might have,” he says.

Isenberg’s research comes into play at the negotiating table. A U.S. representative, for example, might declare that emissions should to be reduced by 20 percent in developing countries. A developing country like Guatemala will then respond by requesting funding to help meet that target. But who decides how much the country should request and which figures should be included in the treaty?

Isenberg is on the team working behind the scenes in to coming up with these specific numbers, which will then become Guatemala’s position.

When he’s not doing research, Isenberg is secretary to the chief negotiator of Guatemala. In that role, he attends meetings with other countries, types up notes and does key translation work.

“Language is a big issue and smaller countries are at a disadvantage,” Isenberg says. “The nuances in the text can get totally lost.”

While many young Canadian and students are in Copenhagen, not many are in Isenberg’s position, directly influencing the text of a treaty. His road to Copenhagen started in 2007 when he studied in Panama under Catherine Potvin, a biology professor at McGill University. In Panama, Isenberg interned at the government’s climate change office where he put together a report on how feasible it is to pay landless rural poor to stop cutting down forests for their income. Under Potvin, he helped developed a new finance scheme to prevent deforestation that has since become the norm in the international arena.

“I’m here to help push forward Guatemala’s interest, but those interests are aligned with social justice, climate justice, human rights and quality of life,” Isenberg says. “Those are issues I can get behind.”

Photo: Jordan Isenberg, above, from Montreal, is representing Guatemala at the U.N. climate talks

Check back soon for more reports from Copenhagen.

Liana B. Baker, a former intern with the magazine, is a Canadian Geographic climate policy correspondent in Copenhagen

[Reposted from Canadian Geographic Compass Blog]

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