COP21: The Gathering – What are we willing to trade?

There are many analogies used to describe the climate negotiations, some of which – including fractals, webs, and dances ­– have been referenced right here on this blog. At this stage of the negotiations though, another metaphor comes to mind: that of trading card games. With the initial deadline for an agreement hours behind us, negotiators are making every effort to cobble together a robust outcome that will be approved by the Parties before the close of the week. At this phase, the foundation of the agreement is in place and global political leaders are negotiating the last remaining bracketed words and phrases.

This is not entirely dissimilar to trading card games, in which players build their decks over time, collecting cards that will serve particular purposes, and trading to create a final arrangement that will win the game. In Paris, negotiating groups continue advocating for particular measures, steadfastly insisting on their inclusion in the final deck. But to reach the finish line and present a substantial and effective climate agreement to the world, compromises must be made, trades brokered, and deals coordinated. And importantly, the trading cards being dealt here do not come in little foil packages, but represent language choices with grave impacts for real people across the world.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Davidson

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Davidson

In the most recent version of the text, it is clear that Parties have reached some compromises, making informed sacrifices in order to preserve their most valued cards. Of particular note is how the language on finance has evolved over the last thirty-two hours. Financial obligations are addressed under Article 6 of the agreement, and since the previous version of the text on December 9th, the vast majority of the uncertainty has been removed from the language. Only a few lonely brackets remain, indicating that parties have worked furiously to resolve much of the underlying disagreement.


From: (Vesela Todorova)

While trade-offs are apparent throughout the text, the give-and-take strategies are particularly notable when developed and developing countries try to reach agreement around financing. For example, some large developed countries insist that they will not agree to new, legally binding financial obligations. Simultaneously, some developing countries insist that they will not agree to a system that saddles all parties equally with the financial burden for climate change. Many of the outstanding challenges similarly relate to notions of differentiation of responsibility and ambition.

A potentially underappreciated trade occurred in reconciling Paragraphs Five and Six in the most recent text. Developing countries lost an important component of their deck when dedicated funding for loss and damage was omitted. The earlier version of the text had obligated developed countries to ensure adequate financial support for the International Mechanism to address Loss and Damage, and to promote and support financing for irreversible damage from climate change. This paragraph no longer exists in the draft text.

However, developed parties offered a trade by including vital language related to the scale of financing to be provided. Paragraph Five in the current text calls for consideration of the priorities and needs of developing countries, with a focus on public, grant-based resources for adaptation. This represented a valuable trade for developing countries because, even without the loss and damage funding, this section prioritizes adaptation projects in developing countries when allocating grants and public funding, which are highly sought-after.

These are the types of deals that must be finalized amongst 196 parties before Sunday morning. It will be fascinating to track the outcomes of these trades in the final agreement.