NGOs Apologize for Offending Saudi Arabia at Climate Meeting

BONN, Germany, July 28, 2010 (ENS) – The global environment organization WWF today apologized “unreservedly” for the actions of an employee who took offensive photographs of the official nameplate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and distributed them at an international climate change meeting.

WWF has fired the man, who admitted sole responsibility for the incident.

The episode took place over the night of June 9-10, near the end of a two-week meeting of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, in Bonn.

A Saudi Arabian nameplate at the June 2010 UNFCCC meeting in Bonn (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

The employee of WWF-UK took the black and white nameplate of Saudi Arabia from a conference table, broke it, and photographed it in a toilet bowl. That photo was a feature of leaflets distributed around the conference.

The incident occurred after Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, blocked a request by small island states for further studies into the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

The leaflets were gravely offensive to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which called for an investigation, and to the meeting as a whole.

“The incident was completely unacceptable under the standards of the Convention and the standards of WWF,” said WWF International Director General Jim Leape today. “We have apologized formally to the UNFCCC and the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“The individual responsible has expressed deep remorse and apologized unreservedly for his actions,” said Leape. “He is no longer working for WWF.”

A WWF spokesman has declined to name the individual involved.

“We are deeply sorry for the offense caused by this incident, which we utterly condemn and cannot excuse,” Leape said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that nothing like this happens again.”

Another employee of WWF, and an employee of the international aid agency Oxfam, were questioned by UN security investigating the incident. They have both been suspended pending the completion of further investigations.

Today Oxfam said it has apologized to the Government of Saudi Arabia and to the Bureau, secretariat and members of the UNFCCC.

Saudi Arabian delegate Aysar Tayeb in conversation with former UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer at the June climate meeting in Bonn a week before the incident. (Photo courtesy ENB)

The Oxfam employee did not take part in the act but was in the room when the nameplate was taken, Oxfam said in a statement today.

“The act itself was offensive, inexcusable and inappropriate. It broke UN rules that govern NGO behavior,” said Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs.

“Oxfam has apologized to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to the UNFCCC and its members. Proper staff procedures broke down and we were too slow to respond,” said Hobbs. “We have commissioned an independent review of our internal controls and management systems to ensure nothing like this happens again.”

Oxfam has been in contact with the UNFCCC and members and has requested time at the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn next week to formally apologize to the plenary in a public session.

Hobbs said Oxfam understands the meeting may discuss possible penalties that the UN could take against the individuals and the NGOs concerned.

On behalf of WWF, Leape has written to the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties’ governing body, the COP Bureau, outlining a new Code of Conduct that all WWF attendees at international meetings will be required to sign.

“This will ensure that both UNFCCC protocols and our own internal standards are adhered to,” Leape said.

Leape also reaffirmed WWF’s commitment to the UN climate negotiations process and the continuing negotiations towards solutions to the global issue of climate change, which resume August 2 in Bonn.

The negotiations process is leading to the annual UN climate summit, which takes place this year in Cancun, Mexico. Governments are attempting to agree on a treaty limiting the emission of greenhouse gases that drive global warming.

A new treaty is needed that would take effect when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012.

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