We are working on it!

Island in the oceanAttending COP23 as an observer is a privilege because you are able to attend international multilateral negotiations. You witness established alliances use their power as a block and observe the dynamics of side negotiations. In these international multilateral negotiations, delegates agonize over words and paragraphs. They set their lines in the sand early and often. All of it done with diplomatic speak and collegiality but sometimes some get close to stepping over the line. Most of all, it is a privilege because you get to see the world trying to solve a problem collectively. With all this privilege, there is no denying that at times, these negotiations are frustrating. On rare occasions, the frustration causes one to think that the process is not working.

In a conversation with a delegate, I asked whether he is experiencing such frustration. Stalled talks are particularly challenging for him because he is from a Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which the United Nations considers as vulnerable nations because of climate change effect.  SIDS are usually located in the paths of hurricanes, which are happening with more frequency and more force. In the summer of 2017, for the first time, this delegate’s country issued mandatory evacuations from one of the outlying islands because no available shelter was adequate against the wrath of the coming storm. In the aftermath, the island became uninhabitable.

Additionally, SIDS are very vulnerable to rising sea levels. If water levels continue to rise, the oceans will soon reclaim these islands. Their challenge is their reluctance to make these issues public. Because their economy is dependent on tourism, climate change effects will drive off tourists, which will hurt an already fragile economy.

To answer my question, the delegate simply smiled. Then he started looking around at the other delegates and asked how many countries are represented. I told him there are delegates from 170 countries. He asked what are they all doing here? I told him that they are working on climate change issues. He replied with an even bigger smile, “exactly!” and repeated shortly after– We are working on it.

It is true that the COP process is complicated. One is instantly overwhelmed by the structure. There are three processes contained within the COP (UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement). Furthermore, each convention, protocol, or agreement has its own framework, and they sometimes intersect with each other. Having said that, the complexity of the process really lies in the magnitude of participants. At last count, there are one hundred and seventy countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. These countries represent different needs, levels of development, levels of ability, and a different sense of urgency. Even with the common shared goal of limiting the increase in the Planet’s average temperature, the complexity is how to arrive at the desired results. In other words, who does what and who pays for what is the main source of difficulty at the COP negotiations, but…..

We are working on it!


Negotiation agenda

COP21: The Gathering – What are we willing to trade?

There are many analogies used to describe the climate negotiations, some of which – including fractals, webs, and dances ­– have been referenced right here on this blog. At this stage of the negotiations though, another metaphor comes to mind: that of trading card games. With the initial deadline for an agreement hours behind us, negotiators are making every effort to cobble together a robust outcome that will be approved by the Parties before the close of the week. At this phase, the foundation of the agreement is in place and global political leaders are negotiating the last remaining bracketed words and phrases.

This is not entirely dissimilar to trading card games, in which players build their decks over time, collecting cards that will serve particular purposes, and trading to create a final arrangement that will win the game. In Paris, negotiating groups continue advocating for particular measures, steadfastly insisting on their inclusion in the final deck. But to reach the finish line and present a substantial and effective climate agreement to the world, compromises must be made, trades brokered, and deals coordinated. And importantly, the trading cards being dealt here do not come in little foil packages, but represent language choices with grave impacts for real people across the world.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Davidson

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Davidson

In the most recent version of the text, it is clear that Parties have reached some compromises, making informed sacrifices in order to preserve their most valued cards. Of particular note is how the language on finance has evolved over the last thirty-two hours. Financial obligations are addressed under Article 6 of the agreement, and since the previous version of the text on December 9th, the vast majority of the uncertainty has been removed from the language. Only a few lonely brackets remain, indicating that parties have worked furiously to resolve much of the underlying disagreement.


From: http://www.thenational.ae (Vesela Todorova)

While trade-offs are apparent throughout the text, the give-and-take strategies are particularly notable when developed and developing countries try to reach agreement around financing. For example, some large developed countries insist that they will not agree to new, legally binding financial obligations. Simultaneously, some developing countries insist that they will not agree to a system that saddles all parties equally with the financial burden for climate change. Many of the outstanding challenges similarly relate to notions of differentiation of responsibility and ambition.

A potentially underappreciated trade occurred in reconciling Paragraphs Five and Six in the most recent text. Developing countries lost an important component of their deck when dedicated funding for loss and damage was omitted. The earlier version of the text had obligated developed countries to ensure adequate financial support for the International Mechanism to address Loss and Damage, and to promote and support financing for irreversible damage from climate change. This paragraph no longer exists in the draft text.

However, developed parties offered a trade by including vital language related to the scale of financing to be provided. Paragraph Five in the current text calls for consideration of the priorities and needs of developing countries, with a focus on public, grant-based resources for adaptation. This represented a valuable trade for developing countries because, even without the loss and damage funding, this section prioritizes adaptation projects in developing countries when allocating grants and public funding, which are highly sought-after.

These are the types of deals that must be finalized amongst 196 parties before Sunday morning. It will be fascinating to track the outcomes of these trades in the final agreement.

UNFCCC Negotiations – Coordinating the Dance

NegCourtesy of Creative Commons (Bobbi Vie)otiations are an elaborate dance. Negotiators must coordinate the actions of many partners. Make a misstep and the coordination is lost. What could be an elaborate dance degrades into a chaotic scramble.


On Friday afternoon, the COP21 negotiations demonstrated how difficult they can be to coordinate. After a week of work in spin-off groups and informal informals, the negotiation focus returned to the ADP contact group. What resulted was a classic example of what happens without a coordination plan.


The Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf started the afternoon session by jumping into the process and asking Parties in they had any issues with Article 2 and Article 2bis. Without waiting for the negotiators to catch up, he quickly accepted the Articles as presented and moved onto Article 3.


What erupted next was a 2 hour long discussion of the process of negotiating. Over and over again, Parties voiced their opposition to the plan and the Co-Chair’s tactics.  Over and over again, Parties used the precious remaining negotiation time to debate how to proceed with a review of the negotiating text.


The Co-Chair saw the end goal that he wanted. To get a slimmed down text to the COP. His choice of process was not the right choice. His steps were out of order. UNFCCC negotiations are a party-driven process where consensus decides the pathway. The Co-Chair chose to lead instead of coordinate.


The Parties took a break, regrouped, and returned with a new proposal for coordinating Party input.  Malaysia, the European Union, the United States, and Norway, brought forward a Party-driven sequence for commenting on the proposed negotiating text. A pattern emerged. The Co-Chair reverted back to managing the order and sequence of Party comments. The Parties focused on identifying the key elements that they wanted in the text and making suggestions on what text could be inserted or should be deleted. Each Party suggestion was to be recorded but not debated.


While the first two hours of the negotiation bogged down with discussions of procedure, the second two hours took on a pattern of Party submissions detailing desired key elements. Party after Party presented their key elements. Some Parties submitted no proposals; some Parties made multiple proposals; some Parties made minor proposals; some Parties made extensive proposals. At the end of the meeting, all of the proposals were recorded to be assembled into a reflective note.


The day started off as a chaotic scramble before evolving into a coordinated pattern of Party submissions. What looked like a lost day ended up with the ADP taking a few more steps towards completing its work.



Parisian Preparations: Local Anticipation of COP21

Time is of the essence as the COP countdown continues in the city of lights. The international community is making final preparations for a historic UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris this December. The world has been preparing for Paris for quite some time. The Road to Paris campaign was launched at COP19 in Warsaw. Finance, business, and government leaders established an initiative to develop solutions to climate change at COP21. But what is Paris up to as the conference looms closer?

copPresident François Hollande fired the starting pistol at the Palais de l’Élysée in September during the first of several events featuring France’s commitment to climate change. Monsieur le Président commented, “France wants to set an example. We have already taken some steps like those mentioned by the ministers…but we have to speed up our efforts to become a carbon-free economy…” About one week earlier, Hollande disclosed that France may fail in its bid to craft a new international agreement at COP21. French prime minister Manuel Carlos Valls Galfett added, “the stakes are enormous.”

In France, the Secretariat-General assembled a civil society relations team to lead the charge in preparing for and organizing COP21. The team has consulted all representatives of the civil society constituencies, requesting any thoughts as to the the programming and organization of the Paris-Le Bourget Conference venue. According to the 117 responses, participants think COP21 should cater to younger generations via educational workshops and exhibitions. Most respondents also voiced a desire for accessible conference rooms to foster debates and discourse among parties.

France selected the expansive and accessible Paris-Le Bourget site to host 40,000 COP21 attendees. The venue will be divided into three areas: the conference center, the climate Generations areas, and the gallery. The conference center is the big cheese of the COP21 locations. It is “where the success of COP21 will be decided.” This area is open to accredited guests and operates 24/7. The climate Generations area is accessible to the public, providing an arena for debates and discussions. The gallery is reserved for professionals and offers an overview of climate change solutions developed by companies.


The entire country is enthusiastic. Just this past May at Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, 200 students participated in a public simulation of COP21. The organizers arranged a “political, diplomatic, scientific, and artistic experiment” aimed at teaching young people to understand and transform the climate change scene. Sciences Po launched an initiative to prepare for COP21 called “Make It Work.” This project combines creativity and political activism.

The French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy created an opportunity for citizen participation that will unite and mobilize civil society. The crowd-sourcing platform allows all French citizens to join in the climate change debate.

Scop2ome worry that COP is not getting enough attention. According to a Forbes survey on Google search statistics, the international media community has “failed to spark any interest in global warming.” Worse than neglect is the negative attention COP21 is receiving from climate justice activists. According to a report by the global EJOLT project, activists have voiced their intention to “hack, resist, and confront…false solutions” and inactivity at COP21.

Negotiators from all countries will meet in Bonn on October 19th for the last time before COP21 to hopefully address any remaining concerns.

Simulating success

duke simulationThe Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University will host the 5th Annual Inter-University Climate Change Negotiations Simulation over the October 24th-25th, 2014 weekend. The simulation’s design is based on the UNFCCC negotiations and focuses on the real-world politics as well as the policy debates at the core of the COP/CMP meetings. Student negotiators come from a variety of universities, represent one of the 196 UNFCCC state parties, and endeavor to craft the universal agreement (often called the Paris Agreement) that the real parties intend to finalize in 2015.

Participation is open to any student currently enrolled as an yale simulation 1undergraduate or graduate student. Registration is $20 (or $25 after October 17th, 2014), to cover food costs during the event. Free housing, offered by Duke students, is available for visiting students. After registration, students are assigned a country to represent throughout the negotiations, and readings and training are provided to help everyone learn and succeed.  Some of our VLS COP19 delegation students attended last year’s simulation before traveling to Warsaw, which was hosted by Yale, and spoke highly of the experience.