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Published December 12, 2008 02:29 PM

Visa problems hamper climate change talks

[POZNAN] Some of the world's poorest countries have been hampered in their attempts to attend the UN climate change negotiations in Poznan, Poland because of difficulties obtaining visas.

Lead negotiators, journalists and civil society representatives from developing countries — those most vulnerable to climate change — were delayed, or could not attend the two-week long meeting.

Delegates suffered from delays to their visa applications, with some arriving at the meeting up to a week late, according to Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development.


Liberia's five-person delegation was held up in Nigeria for a week before the Polish Embassy there granted visas.

Ben Donnie, head of the Liberian Environmental Protection Agency and leader of the Liberian delegation said: "We should have been there from the beginning to make our input and meet with colleagues".

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would not reveal how many delegates had been affected in total.

But the problem extended to science journalists from the developing world who had won fellowships to report on the meeting in an effort to reduce the climate change 'information gap' in their home countries.

Two journalists from Cameroon and Pakistan on the Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP) fellowship scheme were not able to attend due to visa problems, and most of the others experienced delays, said James Fahn, executive director of the Internews Earth Journalism Network, a CCMP partner.

Three journalists out of 18 on the Poznan Media Training Fellowship for Developing Country Journalists were also unable to attend.

"It's extremely discouraging," said Fahn. "We fight very hard for journalists to help them attend this kind of important event and we will do it whatever it takes."

Poland joined the 'Schengen region' — an area of Europe where people can travel under just one visa — in 2007, after which it toughened its visa requirements. It takes around 14 days to process a visa application. Poland and other Schengen member states had a year to make visa preparations for the meeting.

Few developing countries have Polish embassies, and many delegates had to travel to countries with embassies, or another country in the Schengen region.

Fahn said he fears the same problem will occur with bringing journalists to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Janusz Zalewski, deputy secretary of state at the Polish Ministry of Environment, told SciDev.Net that Polish embassies around the world were told to prioritise visa applications for delegates. Embassies were also instructed to exempt visa fees, he said.

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