by Doreen Liberto-Blanck
From November 30 to December 12, 2015, leaders from 198 countries and NGO observers participated in the United Nations Climate Change Summit COP21 (Conference of the Parties) in Paris. I was fortunate to be part of the Mediators Beyond Borders (MBB) Climate Change Team and attended the COP21. The goal of the COP21 was to adopt an International Agreement to address climate change.
Carbon dioxide and other pollutants collect in the atmosphere and cause the planet to warm up. Coal-burning power plants, automobiles, wood fireplaces are some of the sources that contribute to a change in weather patterns, or climate change. The changing weather patterns are causing extreme weather. 2015 is the hottest year in recorded history. Heavy rainfall caused the Mississippi River to overflow and contribute to flooding. A mega-typhoon called Typhoon Halyan impacted the Philippines in 2013, killing at least 6,300 people. Typhoon Halyan is one of the strongest tropical cyclones recorded. In 2014, there was major flooding in the southeastern Canadian Prairies. Municipalities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan declared a state of emergency. Climate change has a significant impact on the economy. For example, because the British Columbia climate is milder, mountain pine beetle populations have significantly increased, and more trees die. The reduction in trees has reduced British Columbia's timer supply and many logging companies are having a difficult time surviving.
In 1979, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva. In 1987, scientists discovered an ozone hole in the stratosphere, and international agenda setting transformed climate change from scientific issues to a policy issues. In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed the existence of global warming. The IPCC report on climate change was used by the United Nations, to create the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first COP (COP1) was held in Berlin in 1995, two-years before the Kyoto Protocol was adopted.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol quantified greenhouse gas reduction commitments of developed nations from 2008-2012. Climate change discussions now include two components: adaptation and mitigation.
Adaptation means: considering the current and anticipated effects of climate change and taking action to minimize or prevent the damage which would occur from global warming. An example could be utilizing alternative water management strategies, such as water storage; conservation or reuse to augment reduced conventional water supplies due to droughts.
Mitigation means: identifying the efforts needed to reduce, or prevent, emission of greenhouse gases. One example of this discussed at COP21 was replacing wood and charcoal burning stoves in developing countries with more energy efficient stoves, utilizing alternative fuel sources.
Prior to the Paris summit, negotiations were conducted around the world in an attempt to prepare an outline of the draft agreement. The October 2015 Bonn meeting produced informal notes which outlined the draft agreement to be considered at COP21. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which outlined how countries would reduce greenhouse gases, illustrated how progress could be made to reduce global warming. A delegate from the hosting country becomes the President of the COP and presides over negotiations. Since the climate change negotiations were held in France, former French Prime Minister and current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius chaired the COP21.
COP21 gathered the largest number of world leaders together to negotiate on climate change. During the first week of COP21, world leaders such as U.S. President Obama, French President Mitterrand, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, German Chancellor Merkel, Russian President Putin, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and China's General Secretary Xi Jinping, participated in key meetings that directed the two-week summit toward an approved agreement. The Guardian newspaper reported that Chancellor Merkel privately secured President Putin's pledge Russia would not present obstacles in formulating an agreement. President Obama had a series of meetings with General Secretary Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi. COP21 President Fabius had face-to-face meetings with delegates, including Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Chief.
The conference center had sleeping facilities so exhausted negotiators could rest during the marathon negotiation sessions. During the first week of COP21, negotiators attempted to hammer out a draft agreement for review and comment during the second week.
A series of "confessional" talks were organized where delegates could speak in confidence to find common ground. Small groups of delegates called "informal informal" met to hammer out disputed text. However, not much progress was made during these negotiation sessions.
During the week of December 7, there was speculation by many that an international climate change agreement was not possible due to the significant outstanding issues. Undeveloped countries and low-lying island nations supported limiting the pre-industrial temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius rather than 2 degree Celsius. Without significant intervention, many low-lying island nations, such as the Maldives, will be submerged by the end of this century.
To move the negotiations forward, COP21 President Fabius decided to use a Zulu negotiation technique called "indaba." This technique can make it easier to find common ground and enact a fair agreement. Parties are asked to speak personally, give their opinions, not stress positions and state the bottom line. With all stakeholders understanding each other's bottom line, common ground can be identified and creative solutions developed. The indaba negotiation technique worked and a landmark International Climate Change Agreement was adopted.
My next blog will discuss the indaba negotiation technique and identify how it can be used as part of the collaborative process.