Today was the first day of COP28. Before arriving, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I gathered as many stories as I could from people who attended past COPs. What events should I go to? How should I structure my day? What is with all these different zones? And how do I get the most out of all of this? While I got a lot of good advice, nothing quite prepared me for the feeling of arriving at the COP.

While this is my first COP, something tells me that the experience in Dubai is at a whole new scale. The conference is at the Expo City, which was built for the World Expo 2020. It is a small, experimental city that you can walk across in 15 minutes. Countries from around the world built gorgeous buildings reflecting their heritage and local architecture. This sets an impressive stage for the conference. Walking around and seeing people from all over the world in this futuristic, global setting is quite a unique experience. To be confronted with how diverse the world is and all the different backgrounds that are present in the COP negotiations reminds me of how difficult the task ahead of us is. How can we get ~200 countries to agree on anything, especially topics of such great importance as adaptation, climate finance, and mitigation?

I started my day at the G77 + China coordination meeting. I am fortunate to be attending the COP in support of the Paraguay delegation with a “Party overflow” badge, which affords me greater access to negotiation and coordination rooms. I felt that this nearly 3-hour meeting was an appropriate introduction to how painstaking these negotiations must be. The meeting was set to coordinate the opening statement of the G77+ China group for the conference. The chair of the meeting went through each paragraph inquiring if any parties objected to the language of the text. Some paragraphs had no objections; others took 30+ minutes to debate. Parties would add a sentence, remove a word, and add commas, all to emphasize the point they wanted to get across. The chair continued to remind the group that this was just the opening statement, not a legally binding document, and that we needed to move forward with the agreement. It made me think about how slow the legally binding negotiations with all countries must be.

It also encouraged me to reflect on the role of language in the UNFCCC’s process. So much of these negotiations are focused on small language changes. However, for most G77+China delegates, English is not their first language. There were points throughout the meeting when delegates publicly asked anyone else with better English to check the grammar and meaning of the sentence. Delegates must grasp the nuance in words to successfully execute these negotiations – for example, using the word “especially” versus “primarily” was discussed for some time. It is important for me to recognize the privilege of speaking fluent English and reflect on the additional mental labor made by so many delegates who are not speaking in their native tongue.

I look forward to seeing how these negotiations progress in the next two weeks. I’ll be paying particular attention to climate finance and Article 6.