The Sentence

Recognizing the lack of financial and technological resources continues to be a major impediment to the adequate implementation of Article 6 of the convention in many developing countries.” Written in legal jargon? Yes. But a major sticking point in climate negotiations? As I recently learned, yes.

Dozens of youth filled the conference room at Moon Palace where negotiators were trying to come to agreement over Article 6, which would promote education and public access to information around climate change, with significant focus on youth. The negotiators had only an hour and a half to hammer out the final version of the article, meaning every second was valuable. The United States immediately asked for a few minutes to study the proposed text, despite having had ages before the session to do so.

The meeting finally started, only to stall on a single sentence in the preamble. The US took issue to the sentence in question, telling the facilitator that they agreed with the sentiment of the sentence in question but thought it could be cleaned up and be made more specific. They began bracketing off the sections they didn´t like. The text, shown on a giant screen soon read: ¨Recognizing that the [availability] [lack] of financial and technical resources continues to be [a challenge] [the major impediment] to the adequate implementation of Article 6 of the Convention [for all Parties] [in many developing countries].¨

Other countries, the Dominican Republic the most vocal began speaking in favour of the previous text. Ukraine stepped up, suggesting to add ¨insufficient, ¨ alongside ¨the availability a change that was disliked by the US. Another country wondered if ¨the availability of financial and technological resources¨ could mean that there was too much money and the problem was that nobody knew what to do with it.

The debate rambled on, with several countries wasting time to tell everybody else that they were wasting time. Japan´s announced that everybody was eating the bread of the Article and needed to move on to the meaty section.

Tuvalu and Gambia began arguing in favour of keeping the reference to the developing countries in the sentence, offering ¨in particular developing countries,¨ to the clarify the US´s proposal of ¨for all Parties.¨ The US shot back, complaining that the US was facing financial difficulties, implying that developing countries should get no special recognition of their fiscal challenges.

The text now read ¨Recognizing that the [insufficient] [availability] [lack] of financial and technical resources continues to be [a challenge] [the major impediment] to the adequate implementation of Article 6 of the Convention [for all Parties] [In particular developing countries] [in many developing countries.]¨

Gambia demanded that the brackets be removed and the facilitator begged that countries show some flexibility and that the talks move on. The Dominican Republic intervened, reprimanded the obstructionist negotiators that the room was full of youth, and that they needed to give the audience some faith in the process by lightening up a little and moving on. After forty minutes the negotiators finally moved past the sentence. The negotiators eventually came to agreement over the text, despite last-ditch time wasting by the United States.

It was my first time seeing firsthand the painful process of bracketing. After seeing the forty minutes of agony that went into finding compromise on a single sentence, I understand why it is so difficult to find agreement on an entire ambitious climate change treaty.

One Response to “The Sentence”
  1. Cam Bell says:

    Hearing about time-consuming discusions like this is pretty frustrating. I appreciate the need to reach concensus on international agreements, but this is really just splitting hairs. Im really hoping that talks move fast enough for a FAB deal to be signed by the end of the conference.

    Also, Malkolm, I just read about your bike trip – you sir, are a freakin champion!

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