To be entirely honest, I didn’t know what to expect from COP23 coming in. We had discussed a lot about the Trump Administration’s desire to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in class but that was one of the primary reasons why there was so much uncertainty coming in. What would happen without one of the primary players in global climate change policy taking any initiative? The second big uncertainty for me was the role that Fiji would play as COP President. This was the first time that a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) would take the Presidency. AOSIS, despite its small size and almost inconsequential presence in other matters of global policy, carries a lot of weight in global climate change negotiations because of its members’ incredibly high vulnerability to the issue. But how would that leverage in political negotiations translate into a COP Presidency? In many previous COPs, the Presidency has played a crucial role. It can make or break a COP, as can be seen from the vast difference in the efficacy of the Danish Presidency in COP15 in Copenhagen and the French Presidency in COP21 in Paris.

Having spent a day here at the COP now, I don’t entirely think I can answer those two questions for sure. I do have a few tentative insights though. Firstly, even though it is too early to say this definitively, a few other countries, particularly large developing countries like China might be trying to take the initiative. While the plenary sessions might be far too early of a forum to judge this, it seems that countries like China were a lot more forceful about their viewpoints than they might have been if the US were a serious participant in the negotiations. Many delegations also took sly digs at the lack of US participation and the Trump Administration’s stance on climate change. For example, the French country pavilion had a number of large signs that said #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain, a not-so-subtle dig at President Trump. It will be very interesting to see how these dynamics shape up over the next few days.


The efficacy and impact of the Fijian Presidency has also seen some interesting turns over the day. From a procedural side, there were multiple complaints on the floor about how long some of the sessions ran. Many delegates were angry about the fact that the COP President, Frank Bainimarama, left the plenary sessions after they ran late (along with most support staff including the translators). There are also some very interesting ways that their Presidency seems to have impacted the content of the COP (although it is slightly hard to say definitely whether it is because of the Fijian Presidency or because this was just the direction that global climate negotiations have been headed since Paris). There is a huge emphasis on loss and damage, particularly on financing loss and damage, including through measures like risk insurance. One other aspect that has been particularly interesting for me is that while there is no indication that climate change-caused displacement will be taken up in the main negotiations, there are a bunch of side events scheduled on the issue over this first week. This is an issue that has more or less been overlooked at past COPs but it is interesting to see it become a part of the conversation under the Presidency of a country that is particularly vulnerable to it.

It is still early days to say anything conclusively but there have definitely already been some interesting turns that the COP seems to have taken. I am excited to see what happens over the next few days, particularly on the issue of climate change-related displacement since it’s a somewhat new but incredibly important issue area for global climate policy at the UNFCCC.