In my last post, I talked a little bit about the goals of COP 23 and the overall workflow at the climate negotiations. In this post, I talk about what it was like to sit inside the negotiating room for the week one of the Article 6 negotiations.

For those just tuning in, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement acknowledges the use by Parties of cooperative approaches for achieving emissions reductions, and provides for the creation of a mechanism for Parties to transfer mitigation outcomes between themselves for use in their Nationally Determined Contributions.

Inside the Article 6 Negotiations

Witnessing a negotiation is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. The pace of progress is, at times, frustratingly slow. This is to be expected, given the fact that the UNFCCC negotiations operate on a consensus basis, meaning that all 196 country Parties at the table must come to an agreement on each and every decision made. Getting 196 countries with divergent views and priorities to come to an agreement on a shared vision—or even a shared phrasing of the same vision—can be challenging, to say the least.

Inside the Article 6 negotiating room in week one of COP23.

Process: A Negotiation Inside a Negotiation

Before negotiating the substance of any draft guidance or implementation measure, Parties must first agree on their negotiating process. This too can be fraught with disagreement, as I learned firsthand this week.

Prior to COP23, the working group tasked with drafting guidance for the implementation of Article 6 had met several times. However, as of the first day of COP23, this working group had little in the way of tangible progress to show for their efforts. Accordingly, the Co-Chairs of the group began the first session with a suggestion for moving forward: they would generate discussion documents to serve as the basis of work for the next two weeks. The ultimate goal of these documents would be to frame the guidance for the implementation of Article 6.

The Co-Chairs reiterated that these documents would not yet have legal status or be considered negotiating text. They were merely a place to gather the positions of the Parties on the various issues into a coherent structure. Once this document was found to reflect the views of all Parties, only then would negotiations on the content begin.

Initial debate about this proposed process for discussion was unexpectedly heated. Some countries feared that the Co-Chairs would use this document to try to smooth out the differences in country’s positions instead of accurately capturing this divergence. Saudi Arabia, in particular, insisted that showcasing divergence was absolutely necessary before negotiation towards convergence could take place.

It bears pointing out that, at this point, the proposed draft documents had not been written yet, and they had already generated controversy. Nevertheless, the majority of Parties felt it would be helpful to have text on the page to work from and it was agreed to move forward with the Co-Chairs’ proposal.

This ship, built in Fiji, sat in the halls of the negotiating zone as a reminder that we are all in the same boat.

Structure: Headings, Preambles & Sub-Elements

Over the next couple of days, the Parties received these draft documents—one for each of the three key paragraphs of Article 6 being negotiated—and spent hours discussing the missing elements of the texts. Several hours were devoted to a discussion of the proper headings to be used to structure the documents.

A major point of divergence on the headings emerged between countries that wanted to start the document with a heading entitled “Principles,” and those that preferred that any reference to principles be relegated to a preamble, where it would have less weight. Other countries disagreed over the ordering of certain headings, whether some headings should be merged or separated, or whether elements captured under other headings should be elevated to full headings in their own right.

As the discussion unfolded, it was easy to get immersed in the dialogue and the logic of each proposal being made, and to forget that the Parties were still just talking about the document’s headings and structure. It took the greater part of week one for the group to get through all three documents and add all of the headings, elements, and sub-elements that they felt were missing from the original draft.

Appreciation for the Process

As I watched this process unfold over the course of the week that I was in Bonn, I was struck by how slow the process felt, but also by how necessary it was to take that time.

Arguments about process and about headings may seem trivial, but they are the foundation upon which the ultimate negotiations are built. Taking the time to get all of the countries on board with the process was necessary to build the trust required to move forward on discussions of the substance. Taking the time to allow each country to express its preferences on headings and to insert its positions into the text allowed the Parties to co-create a text that could serve as an even playing ground when the negotiations begin in earnest.

Being an observer in the Article 6 negotiating room in Bonn gave me both a more realistic perspective on how difficult these negotiations can be, and an expanded appreciation of the incredible achievement that is the Paris Agreement.