Would you like a balcony seat for COP20?

William Ury, a recognized expert on negotiation and mediation, has the secret to negotiating difficult world conflicts. He calls it the “third side”. He reminds us that in most conflicts there are two sides angling against each other to determine who is right. But there may also be another angle to consider – a third side “balcony view” that can imbue a broader perspective. classic theatre balcony

The fundamental role of the third side is to remind parties of what is at stake and to move beyond positions, recognizing the underlying interests of the stakeholders, and in this way moving toward reconciliation for the greater good.

So is there a “third side” for ongoing global climate negotiations?

Perhaps. A recently created negotiating group known as the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), representing six countries – Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Guatemala and Panama – have come together and carved a niche that many believe may bridge the North-South gap in U.N. climate negotiations. Notably, AILAC has stepped away from the powerful Group of 77 + China, and is now pursuing its own ambitious interests for low-carbon development; it is setting an example by putting up its own money and financing projects that reduce GHG emissions domestically.

By creating this space for ambition, AILAC is becoming a recognized leader in climate negotiations. AILAC logoTimmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies at Brown University, referenced AILAC’s approaches as “a third way in Latin America.” AILAC has bridged negotiating bloc divides and formed important alliances with the EU and developing nation groups, which in turn has helped catalyze movement toward a legally binding agreement in 2015.

And at last week’s ADP2-6 meetings, while there was a recognized divergence in Party positioning about how to form the foundation, content and legal framework for a 2015 Agreement, AILAC referred to its own “ambitious yet pragmatic” approaches as “solution oriented and flexible”. The group specifically referred to itself as “bridge building engineers,” favoring a consensus approach, and urging bold actions in Lima that recognize top-down elements as necessary for delivery on objectives. Indeed, AILAC was recognized as a potential “bridge builder” through its more concrete proposal addressing short- and longer-term goals for finance.

Ury proposes that the “third side” perspective can help remind parties of what is at stake.


Last week AILAC provided its vision of this broader perspective for reaching a carbon neutral global economy, stating “We want a planet that is resilient to the impacts of climate change and where all investments are directed towards low carbon and climate resilient development. This will provide the required longer-term guidance that will support a global transformation.”

Even while some Parties acknowledge disappointment at the outcome of last week’s meetings, and lament the significant work yet to be accomplished in Lima, AILAC asks that we “keep the focus” on defining a long-term system to operationalize an effective and meaningful 2015 agreement: one with a balanced outcome that reflects all the elements of the ADP and not just mitigation. Lastly, it urges that work under ADP Workstream 2 address the necessary pre-2020 enhanced mitigation ambition in the short term by all Parties.

Instead of traditional conflict negotiation regimes that aim at recognizing who is right, AILAC may provide a fresh perspective aimed at identifying interests with a view toward commitment, action and results. Currently, Parties are divided on what a new agreement will encompass. Perhaps AILAC can help bring some heightened perspective beyond labelling differences as the “one-size-fits-all”or “bifurcated” approaches.

It will be interesting to see how bridges are engineered, and if AILAC can provide the third side balcony view. I will be up there watching.

Bonn ADP