This article is written by Clément Métivier.
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.