Author : Clément Métivier is coordinating the COP in MyCity project in France and North America. He completed a Master degree in International Affairs and Environmental Policy, and has studied and worked in both France and the US.
Imagine being in a room with 196 of your peers. Your goal? Deciding on what will be on the table for dinner. Your mission? Make everyone agree on what dish to cook, when to serve it, at what temperature, and whether everyone should eat that dish or not. This would be quite a challenge for you, right?
Well, this is pretty much what is happening during international climate negotiations. This year, the 196 Parties (195 States and the European Union) that are belonging to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have to negotiate on a new climate regime, which has to be completed by the end of 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), and will then come into effect after 2020.
Consensus, a very tricky process
Climate negotiations are based on a consensus principle. In order to take decisions, Parties must all agree with each other. Since there are 196 of them, reaching consensus is therefore a very tricky process, especially because the issues addressed are way more important than a dinner. Indeed, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the negative impacts of climate change are two daunting tasks, with huge social, political and economic consequences, which require all countries to rethink their development pathways and redefine their energy system, among other things.
At that point, putting 196 actors around a table and aiming at reaching consensus does not seem like a good plan. However, taking a closer look at the climate negotiations may introduce a more optimistic perspective. Indeed, all Parties are not usually present during the facilitated groups, when all the topics related to the future agreement are discussed in detail (for example, mitigation, adaptation, technology, transparency, or finance). Within those facilitated groups (also called contact groups), around 50 delegations are usually present, which makes dialogue a little bit easier than with almost 200 countries. In addition, the existence of alliances among countries leads to situations where one country speaks on behalf on its group, and express a common position, thus making the negotiation process smoother.
The facilitation process
But there is another element that is usually underestimated, and has a crucial role to play when reaching consensus in the facilitated groups. This element is related to the facilitation process itself. In each group, two co-facilitators are in charge of leading discussions. The co-facilitators are delegates, who are representing countries when they are not facilitating, and who are chosen ahead of the negotiations among a pool of interested candidates in order to facilitate the future contact groups. Co-facilitators are fulfilling their tasks on a temporary basis, and their composition reflects regional and gender balance.
So, why are those co-facilitators playing a major role in the negotiation rooms ? Well, they open up and close each session. They allocate time for the delegations to speak. But they also do way more than that. They synthesize the interventions made by some Parties, thus enabling for a better understanding of countries’ positions. They ask questions to guide the debates and favor convergence among delegations. They make propositions to Parties regarding the topics that should be addressed in priority. When some tough topics emerge during discussions, the co-facilitators can also propose a division of the group into smaller and more informal spaces, called spin-off groups, which deal with specific and controversial issues. Being themselves delegates, they have a real legitimacy in the eyes of the negotiators. As a result, co-facilitators have the ability to direct the debates in a specific direction in order to favor consensus, which can be very useful when negotiations are stuck or unproductive.
Reaching an ambitious and inclusive agreement in December in Paris will depend to some extent on how negotiations are facilitated. Because at the end, without a skilled facilitator, having a fruitful debate is always way more difficult.