Written by: Lena Phillips
So COP16 came to an end as the sun rose Saturday morning and perhaps it was a product of excessive fatigue, but the air in the plenary was predominantly one of triumph and accomplishment. There was a tremendous amount of praise awarded to the Mexican presidency and rightfully so; Christiana Figueres guided the negotiations in a manner that was transparent and inclusive. Process and procedure was particularly important at this year’s COP since last year, back door deals and negotiations seriously discredited the UN as a principled body in the eyes of many. Weeks before the negotiations were set to take place Canada’s lead negotiator, Guy St. Jacques, called the entire UNFCCC process into question and the message largely conveyed through the media was that we should expect little if anything from the outcome of these talks. Yet, Friday evening there appeared to be some completely unexpected breakthroughs in the negotiations. Countries who had been threatening to block progress throughout the course of the negotiations showed signs of backing down- particularly as it related to keeping the Kyoto Protocol (the only existing legally binding document calling for GHG reductions) alive. Text that had been previously bracketed, and thus subject to being removed, had been un-bracketed thus allowing for key aspects of the deal (such as emission reduction targets) to be left in.
Notably, 193 out of 194 countries agreed, albeit sometimes with caution, to this last minute text. Unfortunately Bolivia, a country who had shown great leadership in the lead up to COP for the peoples of the world most affected by climate change, was unable (or unwilling?) to accept the terms of the text. It is still unclear as to why Bolivia took this stance. Ideologically it makes sense. However realistically, in order to keep an international climate deal on the table, Bolivia did not compromise in ways that would allow for the process to move forward. As a consequence, the negotiation approvals went forward without true consensus.
So what does this mean for next year? It means that there exists a much stronger platform from which to negotiate from in Durban and hopefully establish a legally binding agreement with strong targets. However, if a consensus based process can get away with not actually needing consensus, where will the line be drawn in the future? What happens next year if 2 or 3 countries take serious offense to certain aspects of a deal but 190 some odd countries agree? Do we go forward for the sake of the majority? What would happen if it were a country like the United States that fundamentally disagreed with the agreement? Would we have seen the same kind of override action as was taken towards Bolivia? I guess we’ll see in Durban. If anything, I hope that there is faith restored in the UNFCCC process as climate change cannot be solved without international cooperation and negotiation.