Hey Parties, Be More Constructive

I think to anyone who is new to the conference, a question that inevitably pops up is, “why does this process move so slowly?” We know the science tells us to move faster, we know the parties are indicating a willingness to scale up commitments; why isn’t it happening?

Conventional wisdom and common sense give rise to some of the obvious factors: the divide between developed and developing countries, the lack of trust, the massive transaction costs, the consensus voting structure (see Breakdown in Bonn: The SBI’s Spetacular Flop ). These factors are all present, and they contribute significantly to the languid nature of the process, but these are factors largely beyond the parties’ immediate control. What would be more interesting, would be to figure out what parties could be doing that they clearly are not, and that is the subject of this blog post.

Do your homework! – A Law Student’s Perspective

It’s Day 1 and we’re sitting at the ADP, listening to countries’ statements of positions on the structure of the 2015 agreement, moderate finger pointing ensues, vague promises and proposals are made, and first-time observers think, “oh, this must be typical of a first-day Plenary; they’ll get more specific as the weeks pass.” But the thing is, they don’t get more specific. Maybe two countries come up with concrete proposals over the next two weeks, until, suddenly, we’re at the closing session of the ADP and the same countries are making the same statements with the same vagueness and finger pointing. This really got me thinking, if I were in charge of my delegation, what could I do that would prevent this from happening? What could I do to prevent further entrenchment into what now seem to be eternally familiar positions? The answer: create constructive proposals before I get to Bonn.

The ADP negotiations reminded me of law school in this way. In law school, if you don’t know, you do a LOT of reading, and it’s not really possible to do all of the reading all of the time, unless of course reading is all you do, or else you’ve got robotic eyes or something. The point being, if you don’t prepare for class, you don’t get hardly anything out of the lecture because you haven’t done the preparation necessary to engage substantively on the topic. I feel like this was the case with 95% of the countries at the ADP. If I were a negotiator, I would have a proposal for every meeting, outlining exactly what legal form I wanted to see for the future agreement. While there were repeated calls from the Co-Chairs to “be more specific” or to “stop the finger-pointing” but countries seemed unwilling, or unable, to comply with these requests. The statements prepared and (painstakingly) read by states parties at the closing plenary seemed to require careful man-hours of preparation, that might have been used to, instead, actually do some substantive work on coming up with a proposal for action.

I have only gotten A’s in classes for which I did all the necessary preparation, for which I felt I was totally prepared. The opposite was always true in classes for which I slacked off, left readings unread, procrastinated, and tried to make up for it later. I ended up with B’s and/or C’s. And for my classmates it’s the same story. What we have right now is (I’m feeling generous) a C+ agreement. What we need is an A+ agreement, which requires proper emphasis and preparation.

Caveats – Recognizing Barriers to Progress and Constructive Proposals

At this point I’d like to recognize some of the factors that inevitably contribute to the lack of constructive, specific dialogues in the Plenary sessions. First, many developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries, don’t have the capacity and resources to engage in the domestic studies, dialogues, etc. I’m not saying that I expect a country that is dealing with warlords, poverty, and disease to convene a panel of experts on climate change in order to introduce a precise proposal on solutions for the treaty. I’m calling on countries to put the proper emphasis on bringing constructive solutions to the table when possible, especially developed and high-capacity developing countries. Second, I recognize that the Plenary sessions are more politicized and general than the negotiations that take place behind the scenes. I’m sure that more constructive and specific dialogues are taking place behind the scenes, especially in bilateral negotiations. However, I’m convinced that more work could be done on this, because if I were a negotiator, I would use the Plenary to build support for my proposal, and I’ve seen several countries utilize this method to great success. Last, the ADP is a relatively new process and may not be ready for constructive principles, but I think this begs the question. If more work on constructive proposals had been done, it may be moving faster towards a comprehensive and ambitious agreement in 2015.

The Beauty of Constructive Dialogue – The Chairman’s Plea for Civility

Constructive dialogue is only possible when there are pieces from which one might “construct” an agreement. Instead we have political alliances and positions, but no formal proposals that are positive in nature. Yes, granted there are countries which lack the capacity to send a representative to the SB38, let alone craft a legal position. I’m not talking about those parties, necessarily. However, all parties need to take more responsibility for the gridlock that has consumed the ADP, instead of finger-pointing, they need to look at themselves and realize that there is much more they can do in order to move the process forward. When Switzerland put forward concrete proposals for what the agreement should look like in Warsaw, I and others perked up in our chairs, wrote fervently in our notepads, and got . . . wait a for it . . . interested. New proposals create new compromises, solutions and ideas. They foster positive, rather than negative dialogue, because people appreciate hard work and new discussions.

International law functions when norms are established. If the norm is to come to Bonn every summer just to assume the status quo, then entrenchment and obscurity will continue. Real leadership requires real solutions, and real solutions don’t come from theoretical principles. So countries, this is my plea: please get some real work done before the COPs and SB meetings so we aren’t there until Sunday, hashing out another pitifully vague agreement which fails the tenets of the convention and the world community at large. As the co-chairs stated in their conclusions today, there are 940 days until the Paris COP. Please do your homework before it’s too late.


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