Given the defined divide in country specific stakeholders concerns, along with the lens of personal circumstances and beliefs, that promotes a heterogeneity of perspective among COP21 participants, the ultimate success in Paris may rely on the establishment of an agreeable definition of consensus.
In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the word “consensus” is used three times, once in Article 7(k) and twice in Article 15. In the first use, consensus is not defined but rather provides the defining boundary for the adoption of “rules of procedure and any financial rules,” as these relate to the establishment of the Conference of Parties. In Article 15 paragraph 3, consensus is referenced as the basis of implementing amendments to the Convention; however, again it is not explicitly defined. Instead, the proportion that constitutes consensus can be inferred as being greater than 75%, based on the parameters provided for action in the absence of noted consensus.
If all efforts at consensus have been exhausted, and no agreement reached, the amendment shall as a last resort be adopted by a three-fourths majority vote of the Parties present and voting at the meeting. The adopted amendment shall be communicated by the secretariat to the Depositary, who shall circulate it to all Parties for their acceptance. (Article 15, paragraph 3)
As noted by Jesse Vogel, specific to the UNFCCC and the Convention, consensus “does not mean complete unanimity. Often it is defined in the negative – the absence of ‘stated objection,’ or of ‘express opposition,’ leaving wiggle room when it comes to defining just what explicit objection looks like. And sometimes, “consensus” can be declared despite the express objection of some.” The lack of clarity of defining what constitutes consensus has been a point of concern for many observers and participants.
La Viña and Guiao comment, “There is, after all, a profound difference between having the agreement of all Parties, and hearing no objections from any of them.” The latter aspect is not necessarily consistent with consensus and in review of prior COP meetings is attributed by some to purposely-deafened ears.
At COP21, the common values of stakeholders will do much to promote a singular foundation for discussion. However, the inclusion, acknowledgement, acceptance, and ultimately overt compromise related to the differences between the national interests represented by meeting participants will be the defining elements of the legacy of the meetings, and the implementation of consensus will play a significant role.