Shadow Negotiations

Negotiations as we see them played out in the halls and meeting rooms of Warsaw’s National Stadium are just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the Party-driven process lies a web of interactions between Parties and their civil society constituents, various groups and perspectives within civil society, the Secretariat and Parties, the Secretariat and civil society, etc. These “shadow negotiations” in many ways parallel the governmental negotiations, and have the potential to support, undermine, spur, inform, and/or otherwise influence what happens over the next two weeks at COP 19.


For the past several years, I have been a Shadow Negotiator (can you tell I set up this entire blog post mystery_man
just so I could make myself sound mysterious and cool?). A large part of my work here in Warsaw, as in COPs past, is to engage with various groups of NGOs and Parties to inform and support the Party-driven process. I currently work within a group of environmental NGOs focused on issues related to land use, forestry, and agriculture under the Convention and Kyoto Protocol. Our goal, generally speaking, is to help Parties reach agreement on robust, equitable, and environmentally-sound policy mechanisms that support the ultimate goal of the Convention.

Like Party groupings such as AOSIS and the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), our group coalesced from the larger community around common interests and negotiating objectives. Also like Parties, we often negotiate and compromise within our coalition to come up with shared positions and proposals that we present back to the UNFCCC community.  Our proposals range from the treatment of natural disturbances such as wildfire and pest outbreaks that result in large emissions of GHGs from forests, grasslands, and other lands; to recommendations on how to help developing countries gain better access to satellite images of their forests. Much of our work is coordinated over email and phone in the months leading up to UNFCCC negotiating sessions.  I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent on conference calls—I absolutely dread getting my cell phone bill for the two or three months preceding the COP each year!

After our smaller group has developed a policy proposal internally, we then shop it around to a few
“friendly” Party delegations to see what they think of it. We try to engage a range of views; if a proposal is
DRAFTstrongly support by some countries and flatly rejected by others, we know that it is probably not going to be helpful in moving the negotiations forward. However, if a critical mass of Parties think our proposal is useful and could make a positive contribution to discussions, we then begin the painstaking process of putting it in writing. Although we are not quite as fastidious in this phase as the Parties, who once famously spent 24 hours debating a semicolon, our drafting process involves a significant amount of wordsmithing, not to mention enough track changes to crash Microsoft Word at least once every ten minutes. This part of the process is definitely NOT my favorite.

But I do love the part that comes next. After we have our final proposal drafted and edited to (almost) perfection, we get to take it to a UNFCCC negotiating session. Here in Warsaw, we are working with two texts, each of which deals with a different part of the REDD+ technical agenda. After giving negotiators a chance to read and digest our proposals, we start holding “bilaterals.” These meetings are opportunities to get a more thorough understanding of what is going on in the Party-driven process, to try to move that process toward a more environmentally effective and equitable result, and to meet some very cool and very dedicated people from all over the world.


For me, there is no better feeling than to have a negotiator you know and respect say, “thank you for your input. It really helped us to come to better place in negotiations.” It may not seem like much, but it makes all the many months of preparation, rejected proposals, and cell-phone bills worth it. To know that our efforts, in some small way, helped to move the UNFCCC process forward and reach a better result than what otherwise would have occurred—this is why I do what I do.