Go back home! Your country needs your brain!
Interview with Mr. Vicente Paolo Yu, Advisor to the State of Palestine Delegation; Coordinator, G77 and China Group
This week, I am attending the UN Climate Summit (COP 25) in Madrid. I got this opportunity through the Duke UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Negotiations Practicum. In my third day of the conference, I had the privilege to speak to Mr. Vicente Paolo Yu, Coordinator for the G77 and China who is currently leading the negotiation on Climate Change Loss and Damage at the conference. We discussed a range of issues regarding his international negotiation experience and his advice to graduate students.
Question: Mr. Vicente, thank you so much for your willingness to share your experience with us as international negotiator on climate change issues.
Can we start by introducing yourself and how you become a climate change negotiator to our readers?
I’m from the Philippines. I have a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master of Law degree as well. I’m trained as a lawyer. And when I was in the Philippines, I worked for a while and I was also studying law. I was working for an NGO that did a lot of community organizing among indigenous communities in the Philippines. I was also fortunate enough to have gotten a Fulbright scholarship. So, I did my Master of Law degree at Georgetown and went back home. After a few years there, the opportunity came for me to work in a developing country institution called the South Center.
The South Center is an intergovernmental organization with membership of 54 developing countries. And the idea of the South Center when it was set up in the mid 1990s, was to serve as a think tank and technical support institution for developing countries in multilateral negotiations. So that’s where I stayed for almost twenty years, which is based in Switzerland, in Geneva, because that’s where a lot of the multilateral diplomacy was taking place. So, my specialization has been on international trade policy, international environmental policy, and for the past 12 years, I have been spending a lot of my time on climate change. So, this is how I got into the climate change area.
I started off in this process in Bali in 2007, supporting the Indonesian presidency at the time, and also giving ideas to Indonesia’s mission and diplomats in Geneva, and then over the past several years, I have also been a delegate and technical advisor for different developing countries at different levels. Most of the time, I have been a delegate and negotiator in climate change for my home country, Philippines, but I have also been honored to have been asked to be part of the delegations of other developing countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, and El Salvador. Right now, I’m in the delegation of the State of Palestine.
Question: What do you think it takes to be a good negotiator in terms of the skills?
Well, the main skill needed is patience. You have to be patient. You also have to be thorough, and I think and then, of course, you have to be principled. My experience as negotiator has often been that and you have to be fast on your feet in terms of thinking through. So, you cannot negotiate simply by reading statements. You have to negotiate by understanding your colleagues as individuals by not seeing them as enemies, seeing them as partners, even for us on the other side. And I think it’s also important that to understand the context that your colleagues are coming from. Because, like, for example, many of us developing country negotiators come from contexts where we know that there are a lot of deficiencies in terms of skills like abilities and we know that our developed country friends will definitely have a different context. So, they will look at things their way and we look at things in another way. So, negotiations strategy in a way is shaped by personal experience, by personality, and of course by policy positions that you try to push. But also, in the end maybe in a way, understanding that when you do negotiate, even if the other side would have a different position from you, you have to try to believe, even if it might be difficult at times that they also want to have a common goal. So, in this climate process, that common goal is for us to try to have the international community come up with something that enables all of us to contribute together towards addressing climate change.
Question: For aspiring students who want to proceed in International Development, what do you recommend from your experiences?
What I would recommend is that you start doing internships and work while you’re studying. Yeah, you know, get exposure as quickly as you can and in depth in the field that you’re interested in. Because, looking at the issue, just from theory or from academia is not sufficient. For example, if you were to talk about, how do you negotiate climate change issues? The way that academic professors might talk about negotiation practices and strategies will be quite different from how we actually do it in reality. That’s why I’m saying it’s important that you get an in-depth look at how it’s really done.
Question: How about folks in mid-career program in International Development like the Duke Program in International Development Policy?
Answer: Go back home! Go back home! People need, our countries need your brains. I know for many of us who come from developing countries,
staying and working in developed countries at times is attractive, but we cannot help our countries develop if we take our brains out. So for us as developing countries, we, as students and as people who have been privileged enough to have this chance to study overseas, we need to bring that knowledge back and help us build our own countries because that’s the only way that in the end, we will be able to become independent. And we will be able to, you know, help provide better lives for our people.
Thank you so much, guys.
Well, I have finished my questions. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much, guys.
By Yared Hurisa, Rotary Peace Fellow,
MIDP, Sanford Public Policy School, Duke University