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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Poznan's Alphabet Soup

Air Date: Week of

Part of the challenge of navigating the international climate talks in Poznan, Poland is keeping all the acronyms straight! Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman sorts through the COPs, MOPs, CDMs and GHG’s at the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood in Poznan, Poland.

Here, at the U-N-F-C-C-C- now that’s The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – you have to learn the alphabet because we’ve got delegates attending the C-O-P 14 - the Conference of Parties - and representatives from N-G-Os, those are Non-Governmental Organizations – those folks are engaged in wide ranging discussions about G-H-Gs and C-D-Ms, and that would be – let’s see - Green House Gases and Clean Development Mechanisms.

And if you’re confused by the acronym alphabet soup, well, I’ve been coming since 1997, the session in Kyoto, to these meetings, and I’m still learning a lot. And here for the very first time is Living on Earth's Bruce Gellerman. Hi there, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Hi, Steve. And boy, you are right. There is a lot to learn here. This place is enormous. You’ve got ten thousand delegates from around the world – you’ve got myriad media outlets, research institutions, public interest groups, and state and national and international organizations....and it seems each and every one goes by an acronym:

PEOPLE AT CONFERENCE: It's ECI and it's Environmental Change Institute. WMO and the full name is World Meteorological Organization. WFP, World Food Program. This is actually an easy one UNEP, United Nation's Environment Program. My acronym is SEI, it means the Stockholm Environment Institute and we're trying to bridge science to policy - that's our goal.

GELLERMAN: And the goal of the more than 1000 reporters attending the UNFCCC is to unscramble this multi-cultural, climate change crossword puzzle.

LOVELL: The one thing that climate talks have done is generate a complete industry of acronyms.

GELLERMAN: Jeremy Lovell, a veteran Reuters reporter, is attending the Poznan climate summit.

LOVELL: There are bingos, ringos, namas, napas, all sorts of them, cops, mops, but then the mop is also CMP which is confusing when acronyms have acronyms of their own. I remember what some of them stand for but not all of them by any means.

GELLERMAN: Lovell was hired as a freelance journalism instructor for the Poznan summit. He gives workshops to help reporters understand the complex scientific issues and political negotiations - and navigate the sea of acronyms.

LOVELL: I'm working for a group called COM plus.

GELLERMAN: What is COM plus?...C-O-M +.

LOVELL: C-O-M with a plus sign, yes.

GELLERMAN: Is it an acronym?

LOVELL: Ha-ha...If you like yes, I don't know what the COM stands for. It’s probably for communications. But is it an acronym in its own right? Yeah.

GELLERMAN: It's hard to keep up with. It's impossible to keep up with.

LOVELL: It's virtually impossible to keep up with. Even the negotiators find it hard sometimes to remember which acronym refers to what specific activity.

SUAREZ: The issue is that if you do not use acronyms, it takes you half an hour to say something.

GELLERMAN: Pablo Suarez is ADP - the associate director of programs for the IFRC, the International Federation of Red Cross.

SUAREZ: We are noticing that for our own work for the Red Cross to know what to do, we have to learn a ton of acronyms - otherwise we don't know who to talk to, we don't know what to say when we meet them and we have no way to understand what they're telling us when they tell us follow the UNFCCC AG W-4, etc. So it is a short cut - the problem is only those who know the shortcut can get there.

GELLERMAN: And at a conference where there are people from nearly 190 nations, even knowing the same acronym sometimes doesn't help. Lena Nerlander is with the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Center.

NERLANDER: We were talking about the same thing, but I was not understanding that he was talking about the same acronym that I was talking because acronyms in different languages change.

GELLERMAN: It used to be, "The more things change, the more they stay the same,” except, perhaps for language....and the climate.

At the U-N-F-C-C-C in Poznan Poland...I'm BG for PRI's LOE.



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