194 nations participate in global conferences to combat climate change which means that somewhere around 17,600 representatives from these nations are traveling the globe to meet and discuss these important issues. Ironically some of the byproducts of these meetings of environmentalists are prodigious fuel consumption and air pollution. When reviewing the environmental impact of global travel, one is forced to look at the entire carbon footprint of the very people who are striving to slow climate change. The irony isn’t lost on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, because this year he announced that the UN would be paperless by 2015. At this year’s climate talks in Doha, Qatar, paper is the new pest to control, and the lack of paper is saving hundreds of trees yet is creating a headache for many of the envoys.
A common feature of United Nations climate talks in the past was the ever-present suitcases hauled about by attendees full of documents discussing the progress of meetings regarding technology, finance, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Using less paper had been a constant theme within the wheeled suitcases full of paper, so the Secretary General declared that only three million sheets of paper would be used for the Doha talks. Previous meetings used around five million sheets, so the General Secretary implemented a “Paper Smart” system that gives all the delegates access to the documents online.
This year all the conferences, meetings and side events can be found in a daily program online instead of stacks of hard-copy. The “Paper Smart” system gives the delegates online access to modify the documents as well, so that everyone can alter treaties line-by-line. If a delegate needs a printed form, they can access one of the Paper Smart kiosks for a physical form. While this is fairly easy to access for developed nations where laptops, iPads and smartphones are ubiquitous, it’s more of a challenge for the least-developed countries like Bangladesh.
“In all the 48 least developed countries, how many delegates have laptops, or an iPhone or an iPad? It’s a question of access,” said QuamrulChowdhury, an envoy from Bangladesh.“If you don’t have that document in front of you in any form, how can you negotiate?”
“It has posed an obstacle to some delegations that don’t have sophisticated gadgets,” said Selwin Hart, an envoy from Barbados.
Another challenge to the Paper Smart system is that groups have nowhere to post flyers that advertise the events happening alongside the conference. These groups use the side events to expand and highlight specific papers and products associated with reducing emissions or the debates surrounding negotiations. There is also a decided resistance from older delegates who in their dna dislike having to learn the new technology and protocols surrounding the Paper Smart system. Although the general consensus exists that everyone will eventually assimilate the new system, some delegates are still grumbling.
The United Nations wants their participants to know exactly how much the paper conservation is helping too. Daily statistics are produced on screens throughout the conference center so that all the delegates can see how their paper sacrifice is saving 1, 938, 283 sheets which translates into 231 trees still standing in the forest. The humor lies in the speculation that the paper cutbacks may be the most carbon-cutting measure of the conference. Let’s hope it’s not the only sustainable benefit of this year’s UN climate talks.