A negotiator from a small island nation made a proposal on the ninth day of the Paris negotiations…if an agreement was reached then he would nominate Laurent Fabius for a Nobel Peace Prize. I heard a number of laughs, but there was certainly an undertone of seriousness in his comment.
Fabius was in charge of the show. He structured the formal negotiations, informal informals, ministerial meetings, Paris Committee meetings, etc. On Wednesday night when a new draft text was released Fabius hosted a session, which was open to observers, where parties could publicly comment on the draft agreement. Of course you can imagine what happened next…Parties rambled on one after another for more than two hours, rehashing general statements we’ve heard over and over again for the past year. However, every party seemed to agree on one thing…Fabius.
Here are a few examples from major negotiating blocks:
South Africa: “I am taking floor on behalf of the group of 77 plus China. The group wishes to thank the COP presidency, ministerial, and the secretariat for work so far…”
Australia: “As the representative of the Umbrella group, we would like to thank the presidency for its work. However, significant work remains…”
While a matter of political politeness, these thankful comments made to the COP president appeared to have a truly honest tone. At 11:30pm, after more than 70 parties made their statements, Fabius concluded the session. However, while the public comment sessions were over, the real work was yet again about to begin. With an ashy white complexion and tired eyes, Fabius called to all parties and reminded them that although it was 11:30 at night, it was time to get back to work. I imagine coffee was their bloodline.
According to many, this was one of the most tightly run COPs EVER. I was witness to this. A new draft text was released on Thursday evening, but this time instead of holding a session for public comments, Fabius kept the meeting short and sweet in order to immediately return to the job at hand. He did, however, make it clear to parties that he would “only accept compromise proposals.” If a country could not propose a compromise then they could, “go to a corner” or to another room to hash out their positions. Parties were given 30 to 40 minutes to put forth a bridging proposal. Thursday night’s negotiating session went until 5:30 AM Friday…!
Fabius’ determination to end the Conference on time and his strong leadership strongly influenced the success of the negotiations. The COP president also had a terrific amount of support from many others, including Laurence Tubiana, France’s Special Envoy for COP21, and Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive-Secretary.
It came as no surprise the negotiations went over time, but on Saturday there were no walkouts or angry accusations. A compromise was reached. It was civil, the text managed to represent the views of all parties in one-way or another. The atmosphere in the COP21 venue was electric. The green gavel in the hand of Laurent Fabius came down and the crowd broke out into ear numbing applause. Hands and arms went flying as people high-fived and happily embraced one another. I was teary eyed. Delegations, observers, and press were jubilant.
Yes, of course the agreement isn’t perfect – close to 200 countries had to agree to it! But, it is a starting point. It is a launching pad for more ambitious action.