As the first Chancellor of Germany and acknowledged master of complex politics, Otto von Bismark, is known to have said, “To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.”
Yet when thinking about arriving at the UNFCCC COP20 negotiations in Lima – commencing in less than a week from now – I see it as exactly the opposite. The idea of watching the negotiating process – the proverbial sausage-making – play out in real time is an experience I would not want to miss.
For me, it’s truly a “bucket-list” opportunity. The nuances of language, climate diplomacy, and the purposeful ‘constructive ambiguity’ in these upcoming discussions are as intriguing to me as a good mystery novel.
So what is anticipated? Considering the high-stakes global implications, and the relative speed at which agreement among Parties needs to be forged before next year’s development of a new legal framework/agreement, I will be paying particular attention to the challenges surrounding how Parties agree on communicating their intended nationally determined contributions (known as INDCs) by early 2015, what elements those might include, and how Parties will come to the table to increase pre-2020 ambition to meet the below 2˚C objective. From a negotiating standpoint, the positions of developed nations vs. developing nations, the interplay between negotiating blocs, the framework of Common but Differentiated Responsibility under the Convention, and the quality of Equity remain on the forefront of these discussions.
And how do these dialogues play out? Negotiating theory instructs us that there are three basic modes of approaching dispute resolution: reconciling interests, determining who is right, or determining who is more powerful.
The relationship among these can be quite fluid, and the process of resolving disputes may shift from interests to rights to power and back again. As is clear in climate negotiations, not all disputes end with resolution. In some instances, interest-based negotiation (also known as problem-solving negotiation) cannot occur unless rights or power procedures are first employed. Yet, shifting the negotiating paradigm can be particularly sensitive in climate disputes, especially considering the climate impacts already felt by developing countries, and the reluctance of developed countries to assume ‘historical responsibility’.
In negotiating theory parlance, the recent joint announcement on climate change and clean energy cooperation by the U.S. and China marks an interesting shift of positions – from the traditional power play between these two Parties to one which shifts the negotiating paradigm from a power and rights-based dialogue to an increasingly interest-based negotiation. And this is no easy transition.
Reconciling interests involves digging deeper into deep-seated concerns, developing innovative and creative solutions, and sometimes making trade-offs and concessions where interests have previously been opposed.
For instance, China’s announced target to peak CO2 emissions around 2030 (or earlier) and to increase non-fossil fuel shares of energy to around 20% by 2030 represents a shift from the historical G77+China position that developing nations should not have to bear the burden of solving a problem they did not create. This strongly held position by G77 has precluded the adoption of emission targets by developing countries and focused their efforts on obtaining financial and capacity-building assistance from the developed countries to address climate change.
So, China’s willingness to take on these mitigation targets marks a compelling step outside the traditional G77 approach, and is the first time China, as the largest global GHG generator, has agreed to peak its CO2 emissions. China appears to be straying from the line-in-the-sand ‘binary approach’ of the Kyoto Protocol maintained by developing group negotiating blocs, and instead treating the global dispute of responsibility as a mutual problem to be solved by all Parties. Perhaps China realizes that a ‘better’ approach means minimizing transaction costs of inaction on an economy-wide scale, improving relationships bilaterally and internationally, finding better satisfaction with the overall climate outcome, and lessening the recurrence of future disputes.
Considering the comprehensive targets set in the last month by the U.S., China, and the recent E.U. pledge, we now have countries representing more than half of all global emissions making significant mitigation commitments, which in turn can put pressure on others to shift from positions to action, and from rights to interests.
Although in the U.S. the conservative backlash to this deal has been harsh, the fact is that the shift by large emitters and economic powerhouses, such as China, the U.S. and the E.U., can influence the negotiating dynamic in Lima, hopefully breaking the logjam, and allowing the negotiation system design to upturn – to promote the reconciling of interests but also to provide a lower-cost way to determine rights or power for those disputes that cannot be resolved by focusing on interests alone. All of which leads to an increased chance of a global agreement in Paris next December, shifting the world closer to an emissions path that can stabilize CO2 levels and keep total warming as close to 2˚C as possible.
I am inspired watching developed and developing Parties create the negotiating space to delve into action-based dialogue and consider the impact and weight of inaction – and the recent strategy brought forward by the U.S. and China. I am inspired watching the dispute resolution system play out in Lima: will it shift from a ‘distressed system’ where few disputes are resolved by interest-based negotiations, to one of an ‘effective dispute resolution system’ where power and rights-based negotiation are lessened, and more Parties are making trade-offs and developing an interest-oriented dispute resolution goal?
We are losing ground on meeting the global 2˚C objective, and rights or power-based positioning by Parties will likely not create the dynamic required to bring all effected countries to the table. Yet, countries are expected to devise their individual contributions early in this upcoming year, and agreement in Lima will be pivotal for development of a new legal agreement/framework planned at next year’s COP meetings.
“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Au contraire, Mr. Bismarck, I am inspired by this process. I couldn’t be more excited to see this global sausage-making in action.