Clambering Up the Tower of Babel to Reach the Paris Package

babel-02-800x624Imagine a room full of delegates from 196 different countries waiting to begin a high-stake negotiation. The cacophonous sound of conversations in dozens of languages reverberates around the room. The meeting commences and then proceeds in

Delegate after delegate raises concerns and offers ideal solutions to a controversial draft text addressing the problem of climate change. Sometimes the delegates argue for half an hour over the meaning of a single word. They are all working toward the same end goal: to produce a final climate change agreement by December 11. The delegates’ overarching goal is the same, but they approach it with different blue prints. They are trying to build a solid structure using a miscellany of materials that do not always dovetail.

Coming from so many backgrounds, the delegates do not only come to the negotiation table with differing positions on issues, but also with vastly different ways of reading and interpreting language. As the delegates strive to work through substantive areas of disagreement and allow all voices to speak, one cannot help but wonder if a single, collective voice will form and sing out above the sonorities of divergence.

After a week of negotiations, the Parties agreed yesterday on a draft agreement to send to the Conference of the Parties (COP) next week. The draft is far from perfect and will require more negotiations between the Parties. It is, however, workable. Overall the Parties seemed optimistic during Saturday’s closing ADP plenary session. Speaking on behalf of the G-77 + China, South African Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko said, “we have come a long way, but much more must be done next week to fulfill the task.” She struck an emotional and hopeful chord with the room when she quoted Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Having seen the Parties work past linguistic, cultural, and positional differences to produce a workable text for the COP to use next week has been inspiring for me. It has shown me the importance of remaining optimistic and hopeful during times of controversy, and also of focusing on shared end-goals while trying to achieve seemingly impossible agreements. I walk away from the first week of COP21 with optimism. Although it will be difficult, I believe the Parties will be able to focus on their collective, long-term goal of curbing the global temperature increase and will reach an agreement. The top of the tower is in sight.